Monday, October 31, 2011

Chevron Fights Like Mad to Block Release of Documents

Court Begins to Question Oil Giant's Double Standard When It Comes to Disclosure of Case Files

If you want an example of how a large oil company can mock court orders and get away with it, look no further than Chevron's behavior in the Ecuador environmental case where the company faces an $18 billion liability and allegations that it engaged in criminal misconduct to undermine a trial.See here and here.

The bottom line: due to a series of discovery decisions by a U.S. federal judge, who is clearly biased against the Ecuadorians, Chevron has almost the entire case file of the Ecuadorian's legal team while the Ecuadorians and their lawyers have almost none of Chevron's documents. There is simply no level playing field in the case.

Reporters covering the matter have completely missed the story of Chevron's gamesmanship before U.S. Judges. This gamesmanship makes it clear that Chevron will do anything to evade what is the largest court judgment in history for environmental damage. (See here)

One example vividly illustrates Chevron's maneuvering. For more than a year, the Ecuadorians have been fighting to obtain thousands of documents related to Diego Borja, the Chevron operative who secretly videotaped himself and his colleague Wayne Hansen offering a bribe to be given to the presiding judge in Ecuador as a way to sabotage the proceedings. Borja's own lawyer has admitted publicly that his client faces criminal liability in the U.S. and Ecuador for his actions. Borja has admitted Chevron has paid him vast sums of money -- including covering his U.S. income taxes -- for not working while living in the U.S. out of reach of journalists and investigative authorities.

When it comes to seeking Chevron's documents, the Ecuadorians have been met with nothing but obstructionism from Chevron's army of lawyers at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, King & Spalding, Jones Day, Boies Schiller & Flexner, and Arguedes Cassman & Headley. (Yes, you read that correctly -- Chevron has hired five of the most powerful corporate and criminal defense firms in America to defend its environmental dumping in Ecuador. The Gibson Dunn firm recently disclosed it has at least 75 lawyers working on the case, meaning it is probably is billing the oil giant well over $100 million annually to get it off the hook for human rights violations in Ecuador.)

Consider the radically different ways U.S. courts have treated Chevron's requests for discovery, as compared to those made by the Ecuadorians.

In federal court in New York, the battle was fast and furious for release of privileged documents belonging to the Ecuadorians when Chevron wanted them. Thanks to a "technicality" ginned up by federal judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who insulted the Ecuadorians from the bench by claiming their lawsuit was imaginary, Chevron collected practically every document and email written about the 18-year-old case from their longtime lawyer Steven Donziger.

Kaplan prevented Donziger from arguing why particular documents were protected by privilege. Instead, he ordered Donziger to truck over his entire stash of tens of thousands of emails and internal memos to Chevron's law offices on the grounds his privilege log was turned in “late”. In fact, his log was prepared by numerous lawyers working furiously for weeks to list each of his thousands of documents, and it was clearly prepared in a reasonable amount of time (about four weeks after Kaplan denied Donziger's motion to quash the subpoena).

Using Judge Kaplan as its ally, Chevron also obtained documents from case interns, other lawyers for the Ecuadorians, consultants, financial advisors, and financial supporters -- over 1 million documents in all, according to legal briefs.

Chevron's discovery orgy was abruptly shut down in September by the federal appeals court in New York, which stayed the underlying legal proceeding before Kaplan where Chevron was seeking an unprecedented (and probably illegal) worldwide injunction barring enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment. Without that case, Chevron lost the legal mechanism it was using to continue its U.S. discovery odyssey. Without the injunction, Chevron also now finds itself in a bigger jam now than when Kaplan was allowed to run wild on its behalf.

Interestingly, a few days before that appellate ruling staying Kaplan's proceeding, Chevron's double standard was revealed in a little-noticed decision by New York Magistrate Judge James Francis IV. Francis had this to say about Chevron's privilege logs (which lists Chevron's documents related to the litigation that the company is trying to prevent from being turned over to the Ecuadorians):
“(The review) reveals the categorization process engaged in by Chevron obscures rather than illuminates (emphasis added) the nature of the materials withheld….”
“Distressingly, Chevron has taken a view of its own discovery responsibilities sharply different from the obligations it seeks to impose on the (Ecuadorians) …. Chevron was highly critical of (the Ecuadorians’) privilege log descriptions that turn out to have been far more detailed (emphasis added) than Chevron's own.”
In the meantime, the wheels of justice have turned much more slowly in legal proceedings initiated by the Ecuadorians in California seeking Chevron's documents related to the Borja corruption scandal. See here.

Despite more than a year’s worth of motions filed by the Ecuadorians and granted by the court to compel Chevron and Borja to hand over documents, only a handful of largely irrelevant documents have actually been produced. With the legal action in New York dormant, Chevron is fighting even harder in California to stop anyone from discovering the depths to which the company sank with Borja in Ecuador. If Borja has potential criminal liability for trying to sabotage the proceedings in Ecuador, what does that say about Chevron's liability given that Borja was working for Chevron at the time and is now a “kept man” by the oil company in the U.S.? That's the question Chevron does not want answered.

Chevron has been trying ever since to cover up its involvement, even lying to the public about key facts in a press release -- such as characterizing Borja as a "Good Samaritan", failing to disclose that his sidekick Wayne Hansen (who helped him shoot the videos) was a convicted drug felon, or hiding the fact the pair met with Chevron lawyers as the scheme was unfolding.

Arguing for a balanced playing field for the Ecuadorians, attorney Jim Tyrrell of Patton Boggs recently asked a California magistrate judge to force Chevron, Borja and a private investigative firm paid by Chevron to stop hiding behind their privilege logs.

“… Respectfully, what we get back from Chevron and their allies is garbage. We can't tell what those privilege logs mean,” argued Tyrrell before Magistrate Judge Nathanial Cousins, who is expected to rule soon.
“Chevron has every one of my lead lawyers' documents for 18 years," Tyrell said. "We're quibbling over one here or there. That's not a level playing field, and that's not what justice is about.
“If anybody deserves a press account as to their conduct with respect to fraud, it isn't my side. It's the folks, respectfully, at Chevron.”

We are waiting to see if Magistrate Judge Cousins stands up to Chevron and its army of lawyers. He should allow a full airing of the facts related to this scandal.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chevron’s Favorite Blogger, Zennie Abraham:  

Is He On The Chevron Payroll Or Just A Punk for Corporate Interests?
 Should The San Francisco Chronicle Disclose Zennie’s Conflict of Interest?

Zennie Abraham, a San Francisco-based blogger who has been quick to judge other people’s “ethics” around seemingly unrelated controversies, may have his own ethical, if not, legal problems, a source tells The Chevron Pit.

Zennie Abraham

Out of respect for the source’s wishes, we won’t repeat the details of his problems now but, when made public, they may end Zennie’s bizarre association with many Bay Area companies that he defends and praises in his online rants, including the country’s third largest corporation, Chevron.

Chevron has a long and sordid history with writers, like Zennie, pretending to be something they are not so Chevron can circulate its deceptions about the company’s intentional contamination of the Ecuadorian rainforest. Just recently a pro-Chevron blogger, Alex Thorne, tried to pass himself off as a serious journalist by emailing pro-environment groups questions about their funding. He recently closed down his blog because of the controversy. And, then there was the classic Chevron stunt of trying to pay a real journalist $20,000 to spy on sick Ecuadorians to determine if they really had illnesses. She declined and then wrote about it! And, we can’t forget Chevron’s hiring a former CNN anchor to fake a newscast sympathetic to the company.

As for Zennie, he has been throwing Google bombs our way for years. His blogs are predictable and usually worth ignoring.

But, our source’s latest bit of news motivated us to take a closer look at Zennie’s blogs, which on the surface appear to be this random selection of Bay Area controversies mixed in with sports news and inappropriate videos of women.

After about 15 minutes of playing mix and match online, it wasn’t hard to figure out the common denominator: Sam Singer.

Sam Singer, a San Francisco public relations executive, promotes himself as “The Fixer” and lists a number of corporate clients on his web site that he has “fixed” things for, including Chevron and, oddly enough, The San Francisco Chronicle which, by the way, runs Zennie’s blog regularly on its City Brights site.

Sam Singer

Singer came to our attention in 2008 when Chevron retained him to smear the highly-respected Goldman Foundation and its award of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize to Luis Yanza and Pablo Fajardo, two Ecuadorian leaders in the effort to cleanup the contamination that Chevron left behind in the rainforest.

For the most part, Singer didn’t have much luck with his smear campaign, but Zennie came to his rescue scoring critical blogs about the two award-winning Ecuadorians and many other blogs related to their lawsuit against Chevron.

Zennie has come to Singer’s rescue of his corporate clients many times before and since:

Singer also represents the California Pacific Medical Center. Zennie writes favorably about the California Pacific Medical Center.

Singer also represents Page Mill Properties. Zennie writes favorably about Page Mill Properties.

Singer also represents Recology. Zennie writes favorably of Recology.

Singer also represents Calpine. Zennie writes favorably of Calpine.

We quickly grew weary, mixing and matching Singer’s client list with Zennie’s blogs, but you get the picture.

Zennie disavows any financial relationship with Singer or his clients, saying he simply believes in these companies’ positions. As you might have guessed by now, we don’t believe him.

We are not the only ones either. San Francisco’s alternative online newspaper, Beyond Chron: The Voice of the Rest, was the first to notice.

We would encourage the other San Francisco newspaper, The Chronicle, to require Zennie to disclose his relationship with Singer and his clients, given that Zennie has no other explanation for this odd alignment of interests other than “coincidence.”

And, based on our sources, The Chronicle may want to take a closer, “ethical” look at one of their most prolific bloggers before they, too, have some explaining to do.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Criminal Charges Could Be Filed In U.S. Against Chevron’s Operative Diego Borja

Diego Borja -- the man who stands behind a now-discredited sting operation designed to derail the multi-billion dollar pollution lawsuit against Chevron -- could face criminal charges in the U.S. and in Ecuador, according to his lawyer. Borja’s illegal scheme (it is against the law in Ecuador to secretly videotape individuals) resulted in a 16-month delay of the $18 billion judgment against Chevron.

A transcript from federal court proceedings in San Francisco reveals that Borja's high-profile lawyer, Ted Cassman, who is paid by Chevron, admitted that his client could be faced with criminal charges in the U.S. in addition to an ongoing investigation by criminal prosecutors in Ecuador.

The Ecuadorians have asked the court to release documents related to the sting operation because they believe emails and other materials will prove Chevron’s involvement with Borja. Despite court orders to do so, Borja and other parties involved have released only 13 of over 700 documents requested.

Karen Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for the Ecuadorians said:
"We believe the delay caused by this Chevron-orchestrated sting operation created untold suffering for thousands of people who live in a poisoned environment due to the company's reckless operational practices, It is imperative that Chevron immediately make public all documents related to this scheme."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chevron In Trouble In Australia; National TV Show Blasts Chevron's Environmental Practices

As the oil giant prepares for new drilling operations in Australia, the country is beginning to question its toxic legacy. In "The Amazon's Toxic Mess," Sunday Night reporter Mike Monro joins Zoe Tryon to witness the devastation in Ecuador first hand.As Monro notes,"While Chevron is establishing its environmental credentials in Australia, in the Amazon,it’s fighting hard ball to avoid paying billions to clean up this toxic catastrophe."

The piece takes viewers right into the three meter deep pits of crude oil Chevron is refusing clean. In dramatic moments, the story demonstrates how Chevron contaminated the land and water and how that contamination has resulted in over 1,400 deaths and thousands more suffering from illnesses.

Check out the story here:

In her blog post on the story, Tryon goes into even more detail on the lengths Chevron has gone to cover up its legacy of polluting the Amazon. She illuminates the sad history of Chevron and Texaco's destruction of the land and how it has affected the indigenous people living in Ecuador:

"Over its 28 years of operation Texaco dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waters and waste crude directly into rivers and over 900 unlined toxic pits throughout the area impacting 30,000 indigenous people and farmers living in the area. These ‘formation waters’ contained some of the most dangerous chemicals known to man including Policyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH’s), benzene and toluene. One court-ordered technical report on file in Lago Agrio court house concludes that Texaco's pollution caused 2,091 cases of cancer among residents and led to 1,401 deaths from 1985 to 1998."

As Tryon notes, Chevron is "the largest holder of natural gas resources in Australia." If Chevron is willing to leave the people of Ecuador with a toxic waste dump in their backyards, what will it do to Australia?