Friday, September 25, 2015

Chevron's Forum Shopping Over Ecuador Pollution Hits Dead End In Canada

It is widely known that Chevron has acted as a serial forum shopper when it comes to trying to evade its liability for creating an environmental disaster in Ecuador's Amazon. But Chevron's game of corporate subterfuge and litigation is clearly unraveling, spelling huge new risks for company shareholders.

In short, Chevron CEO John Watson's billion-dollar campaign to buy impunity for Chevron's human rights abuses in Ecuador is flaming out. Watson himself is at risk of being whipsawed by his own short-sightedness.

Canada's Supreme Court ruled in early September that thousands of Ecuadorian rainforest villagers have the legal right to try to seize company assets in that country to force it to pay for its court-mandated clean-up in Ecuador. This is serious: for the first time in two decades, the villagers have a direct path to a full recovery of their $9.5 billion judgment. (Chevron has an estimated $15 billion of assets in Canada, including a refinery, offshore oil field, and office buildings.)

Ecuador's Supreme Court already ruled in 2013 that Chevron must pay up. True to form, Watson had sold off company assets in Ecuador as the evidence proving the company's pollution poured in to court. Watson's posture of evasion not only has infuriated Chevron shareholders and alienated environmental and human rights groups, but has forced the impoverished villagers to chase down company assets around the world in a cynical game of corporate hide and seek.

In finding that the villagers had jurisdiction over Chevron, Canada's Supreme Court dealt a severe blow to Watson's strategy. In a unanimous decision, the court said this in reference to Chevron and other debtors who try to evade paying foreign court judgments:
Through their own behaviour and legal non-compliance, they have made themselves the subject of outstanding obligations, so they must be called upon to answer for their debts in various jurisdictions... The need to acknowledge and show respect for the legal action of other states has consistently remained one of comity's core components, and militates in favor of recognition and enforcement.
Murray Klippenstein, a Canadian lawyer who represented several human rights groups in the country who submitted a brief in support of the villagers, praised the decision in a legal publication. He said,
Chevron some time ago declared a total war, scorched earth legal strategy against this claim by the Ecuadorian villagers, and in this proceeding in Canada, Chevron was seeking to import into the law of international reciprocal enforcement of judgments an entirely novel test... in its decision the Supreme Court methodically and meticulously analyzed, and rejected, that attempt, based on existing legal principles -- and rightly so.
While Chevron forum shops, thousands of vulnerable people in Ecuador suffer from cancer and other grievous health impacts such as spontaneous miscarriages due to the company's failure to remediate its contamination. Thousands have either perished or face a real risk of death in the coming years. (For background on Chevron's cancer problem in Ecuador as documented by several independent scientific studies, see here.)

Chevron's forum shopping has been well-documented.

Chevron blocked the original case from being heard in U.S. courts (where it was filed in 1993) and insisted the litigation take place in Ecuador. It filed 14 sworn affidavits praising the fairness of Ecuador's courts.

Once in Ecuador, Chevron sold off its assets in the country and tried to get the matter dismissed on jurisdictional grounds even though it had promised U.S. courts it would accept jurisdiction there. When that didn't work, it started to attack the very courts it had previously praised.

At one point, notorious Chevron lawyer Ricardo Reis Veiga corruptly "persuaded" the country's Attorney General to call the trial judge to insist that the case be tossed. (The judge refused the entirely inappropriate request; Reis Veiga still works for Chevron.)

After years of trying to sabotage the proceedings in Ecuador -- Chevron's lawyers threatened judges with jail time and filed thousands of frivolous motions -- the courts ruled against the company based on more than 100 technical evidentiary reports and the company's own internal environmental audits. Despite its earlier promises, Chevron refused to pay and said it would fight the matter "until hell freezes over and then fight it out on the ice."

In Canada, Chevron tried to block the enforcement action by claiming its assets are held by a wholly-owned subsidiary. In Argentina, where another enforcement action was filed, Watson flew to Buenos Aries and met with the country's President. He then invested in a new gas field in exchange for a technical dismissal of the enforcement action.

Back in the United States, Chevron convinced a rogue federal trial judge in Manhattan to issue an unprecedented and illegal order purporting to block the villagers from attempting to enforce their judgment anywhere in the world. The judge, who had undisclosed investments in Chevron when he ruled, was reversed unanimously on appeal. He was also mocked by international law scholars around the world.

Chevron will face major hurdles in Canada if it tries to allege it was the victim of "fraud" by the very people it poisoned in Ecuador. Its evidence in this regard was rejected unanimously by Ecuador's Supreme Court and has been debunked even more since in other legal proceedings. The real fraud is how Chevron uses its fake allegation to retaliate against those who held it accountable.

It turns out that much of Chevron's "evidence" comes from a completely discredited witness paid $2 million by the company in violation of federal law.  Further, new whistleblower videos prove Chevron technicians tried to hide evidence of oil contamination at its former well sites in Ecuador as part of an elaborate scheme to defraud the courts during the trial there. (For more evidence of Chevron's vast corruption in Ecuador, see this affidavit.)

Chevron's two decades of litigation trickery, executed by no fewer than 60 different law firms paid enormous sums by the company, has forestalled justice in Ecuador for far too long. Something tells us the respected courts of Canada understand this point very well.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Chevron Paying Notre Dame "Human Rights" Professor Cassel To Publicly Attack Ecuadorian Villagers

If you want a new example of corruption in legal academia, look no further than Chevron's relationship with Notre Dame "human rights" law professor Douglas Cassel. Chevron is paying Cassel to attack the rainforest villagers and lawyers who have held Chevron accountable in Ecuador for its environmental disaster in one of the great recent successes of the corporate accountability and human rights movements.

As far as we can tell, Cassel never even spoke or wrote about this historic human rights case until Chevron started to pay him in 2012. He now tries to downplay his financial relationship with Chevron when writing blogs that largely regurgitate the company's talking points and are rife with factual distortions and other shortcomings, as this critique to his "Open Letter" points out in detail.

Cassel is being used by Chevron to help it evade paying the $10 billion judgment it owes to the people of Ecuador for dumping toxic waste into the rainforest when it operated in the South American nation between 1964 and 1992.

It is pretty clear that Cassel also is allowing himself to play a central role in a classic oil industry subterfuge. Since the corporation (Chevron) that dumped billions of gallons of oil waste into the rainforest no longer has credibility, it tries to enlist a third party academic to launder its agitprop. It is another example of how Chevron tries to use money to corrupt institutions, whether they be courts or universities as we describe in more detail below.

During the litigation, Chevron was so desperate to avoid losing that it paid $2 million to a discredited witness to present false testimony about a supposed bribe that was later disproven by computer forensic analysis. It also threatened judges in Ecuador with jail time if they did not rule in its favor. Chevron lawyers filed thousands of frivolous motions to delay and sabotage the judicial process. (For more on Chevron's unethical payments of thousands of dollars in cash to key witness Alberto Guerra, see here and here. For a general account of the company's corruption in Ecuador, see this sworn affidavit.)

Chevron has tried to enlist other academics in its cash-for-support propaganda plan. Most have resisted the entreaties, but the results are poor for those who signed on. When in 2008 Chevron tried to use Dr. Douglas Southgate to defend its toxic dumping in Ecuador, it turned out he was affiliated with an institute funded by the oil and gas industry designed to cast doubt on global warning. See here for background.

Chevron also tried to use Dr. Ralph Marquez to "monitor" the science in the Ecuador case during visits by court experts to the company's highly contaminated well sites. Once Marquez was exposed as a former chief lobbyist for the chemical industry in the state of Texas (and a confidant of Karl Rove), he disappeared from the case. (See here for background.)

Chevron's lineage with low-grade "academics" reflects poorly on both Cassel's personal ethics and those of Notre Dame's reputable law school. Notre Dame should not be letting Cassel trade on its credibility to sell his own soul (and by extension the university's) to a corporate human rights abuser -- particularly when there is no real transparency about the amount of money changing hands and the conditions placed by the company on any "research" for publication.

While Cassel reaps cash for the arrangement, Notre Dame must pay a high cost via its harmed reputation and compromised academic integrity. The New York Times just exposed the same type of academic corruption at various universities -- including the University of Florida -- where Monsanto and other companies are battling to stop the labeling of genetically-modified foods by quietly paying academics to advocate their positions without full transparency.

Most universities now require their faculty to be completely transparent about any financial relationships they might have with third parties. Notre Dame needs to get on board. Cassel's failure to be transparent about his financial ties to Chevron creates a conflict of interest given his responsibilities to teach Notre Dame's students consistent with the high standards of scholarship and professional objectivity demanded by a top-flight university.

Does Cassel tell his students that he is taking money from Chevron, a company that multiple courts have found to have committed environmental human rights abuses in Ecuador on a grand scale? When he teaches the case, does he provide the financial details of his conflict of interest? Does he disclose his contract so students can assess if Chevron has editorial control (or influence) over what he publishes as a so-called "academic"? Is anyone at Notre Dame asking these questions?

Cassel's spectacle is made worse by the fact Notre Dame expressly states that its mission is to help combat poverty, oppression, and injustice -- the very life conditions forced on thousands of indigenous persons and farmers in Ecuador by the irresponsible operating practices of Cassel's client. (For background on the overwhelming evidence against Chevron in the case, see here. For the high rates of cancer in the rainforest where Chevron operated, see here. For a legal brief responding in detail to Chevron's allegations of fraud, see here.)

Last week, after Canada's Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Ecuadorian villagers could try to seize Chevron's assets in that country to pay for their clean-up, Cassel predictably posted a blog trying to minimize the importance of the decision. In fact, the decision is highly significant and was reported in all major media (see here for our take on the significance) for good reason. Which interpretation of the decision does Cassel plan to teach in the classroom -- his "own" version consistent with Chevron's talking points, or the perspective of the Canadian justices and villagers?

It is worth nothing that Cassel is isolated in his pro-Chevron view of the case. At least 35 prominent international law scholars from nine countries have filed a legal brief supporting the villagers as have numerous U.S. environmental and human rights groups. As far as we can tell, Cassel is virtually alone in legal academia as a wholesale backer of Chevron defenses that already have been rejected by multiple courts, including Ecuador's top court. We doubt he would take such a position if he were not being paid.

Notre Dame appears to have a strong "conflict of interest" policy that prohibits any "situation where financial or other personal or professional considerations compromise an individual’s objectivity, professional judgment, professional integrity, and/or ability to perform his or her professional responsibilities to the University." On its website, the law school says a Notre Dame lawyer should embody "exceptional moral and ethical standards" and "compassion" for others.

These standards might be a good starting point for Notre Dame faculty to use when assessing Cassel's behavior.

To be clear, we don't mind taking on Cassel's pro-Chevron arguments and we do not dispute his right to be heard. What we do mind is his lack of ethics and fundamental dishonesty in trying to downplay -- and often hide -- his relationship with Chevron as a way to try to enhance his own credibility.

We are waiting for Cassel to disclose any and all of his written agreements with Chevron. It would be interesting to know how much he charges to compromise his personal ethics, the ideals of the human rights movement, and the academic integrity of a university.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Six Reasons Why Chevron's Ecuador Disaster Just Became A Company Nightmare In Canada

Chevron's Ecuador environmental disaster -- called "The Amazon Chernobyl" by its indigenous and farmer victims in the rainforest -- has now spread to Canada in what is fast becoming a business and legal nightmare for company management.

For Chevron CEO John Watson, the news that the company will face a trial in the respected courts of Canada over its toxic dumping in Ecuador could hardly have come at a worse time. Due to the drop in oil prices and other structural problems in the company, Chevron has lost a whopping $100 billion in market value just in the last 12 months. (See here for background.)

Now, Watson must face the frightening fact that seven justices on Canada's respected Supreme Court ruled unanimously last week that Ecuadorian villagers can try to seize $10 billion of Chevron assets in the country to pay for their environmental clean-up as mandated by the very courts in Ecuador where Chevron insisted the trial be held. While legal hurdles remain -- the case now goes back to a trial court in Toronto -- the villagers plan to use any funds collected to remediate what experts believe is the worst man-made oil disaster on the planet.

This is a huge and much-needed legal victory for the affected indigenous and farmer communities and for human rights victims worldwide. It is also the latest in a series of stinging courtroom defeats in the case for Chevron under Watson's leadership.

This is the second time that a respected Supreme Court has ruled unanimously against Chevron's attempts to block the Ecuador judgment. Ecuador's National Court of Justice, in a 5-0 decision in 2013, affirmed the oil company's liability for the deliberate dumping of billions of gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest when it operated hundreds of wells (under the Texaco brand) from 1964 to 1990. That dumping caused a massive outbreak of cancer affecting tens of thousands of people.

There are now four separate appellate courts -- two in Canada and two in Ecuador -- issuing unanimous rulings against Chevron on important aspects of the case. (Intermediate appellate courts in the respective countries each issued separate 3-0 decisions against Chevron.) In Canada, the villagers have gone 10-0 against the oil company before appellate judges; in Ecuador, they have gone 8-0.

The latest decision is not Chevron's only bad news. Just recently, in a related investor arbitration between Chevron and Ecuador's government, the oil company suffered a devastating setback when the three international arbitrators tossed out its main legal defense. (For more, read this.)

The latest Canada ruling is a powerful example of how Chevron's vicious attacks against the very indigenous tribes it poisoned  -- in a strategy orchestrated by Watson and former Bush Administration official and Chevron General Counsel R. Hewitt Pate -- continue to backfire. It seems that the more the money the company spends to fend off the Ecuadorians, the more it ends up chasing its own tail.

Here are six main reasons why Watson and Pate -- despite having spent an estimated $2 billion of shareholder funds to pay 60 law firms and 2,000 lawyers to carry out the company's scorched-earth strategy -- are facing a growing nightmare north of the border:

**Canada has a judicial system respected throughout the world. When Chevron loses in Canada, it cannot attack the credibility of the country's courts as it has unfairly done for years in Ecuador. Nor can it strip its assets from the country, as it sneakily did in Ecuador. Chevron's litigation strategy of gamesmanship and intimidation simply won't work in Canada.

**Chevron will be forced to face its environmental crimes in public. Watson and Pate likely will have to deal with the merits of Chevron's horrific environmental pollution and the cancer fallout before company shareholders and a global audience -- something they and their predecessors have been trying to avoid for two decades.

**Chevron has a critically important pool of assets in Canada. Estimated to be worth $15 billion, these assets can pay for the entirety of the Ecuador judgment. That's a huge business problem for Chevron as Canada is one of the leading energy producers in the world and the source of an estimated $3 billion in annual profits for the company.

**For the villagers, the cost of litigation just got way lower. Given that the entire Ecuador judgment can be recovered in one country, for the villagers the case just became much more viable. Also helping is that any issues that might be raised already have been litigated. Chevron's massive resource advantage is no more.

**Because of interest payments, Chevron's liability is growing. Canada allows interest to run on uncollected judgments. This will severely tax Chevron if it tries to employ its usual strategy of obstructionism. The villagers estimate accrued interest in Canada on the judgment already has cost Chevron an additional $500 million, increasing its Ecuador liability to $10 billion.

**One of the  top trial lawyers in Canada represents the villagers. The highly respected Alan Lenczner has been litigating for 40 years and has argued roughly 20 cases before the Canada Supreme Court. (A leading Canadian newspaper just published this fascinating profile of Mr. Lenczner's extraordinary career.)

Other than Chevron, the big loser from the Canada decision seems to be increasingly isolated New York trial judge Lewis A. Kaplan. Kaplan, who maintains highly questionable personal investments in Chevron and let the company block any airing of the environmental evidence, is Watson's favorite activist jurist. While literally dozens of trial and appellate judges in three countries have now rejected some or all of Chevron's defense claims, Kaplan is the only judge in the world who has embraced Chevron's discredited "fraud" narrative.

The larger point: if Watson thinks Kaplan will be able to bail him out in Canada (or anywhere else for that matter), he should think again. Kaplan's preposterous and arrogant opinions condemning the entire Ecuadorian judiciary based on the testimony of a single political pundit will backfire against Chevron before any fair tribunal and are likely to be reversed on appeal. (For details on Kaplan's personal conflict and his open hostility toward the villagers, read this legal petitionthis analysisthis appellate brief and this article.)

Watson and Pate have other problems. A new computer forensic analysis has destroyed their manufactured allegation that the Ecuadorian judgment was the product of bribery. The forensic analysis demonstrated that Chevron's star witness, the discredited Alberto Guerra, has been lying under oath (after being coached by Chevron lawyers for an astonishing 53 days) about the supposed bribe. Chevron had greased Guerra and his family with roughly $2 million, including a Mafioso-style $38,000 in bills out of a suitcase, for his "cooperation" (i.e., false testimony) in violation of the ethical rules and possibly federal law. For more of the disturbing details, read here.

The options for Chevron are narrowing as shareholders grow ever more furious at the mishandling of the litigation and the unsavory tactics being used. Watson and Pate also has been criticized for using the notorious "transnational practice group" at the controversial law firm Gibson Dunn to help Chevron undermine the rule of law by falsifying scientific evidence, coaching the corrupt Guerra to lie, filing motions to harass its critics, and trying to intimidate judges in Ecuador with the threat of jail time. (See below for details.)

New evidence also emerged recently that Chevron tried to defraud Ecuador's courts by ordering its scientists to engage in an elaborate scheme to hide toxic contamination during the underlying trial, as these whistleblower videos demonstrate.

With Chevron's defenses fraying and the bad news coming in torrents, the more intelligent approach for Watson and Pate would be to respect the Supreme Court ruling in Ecuador and work with rainforest community leaders and their lawyers to solve the pollution problem. Instead, in an era of industry uncertainty produced by low oil prices, Pate and Watson squander precious resources in an all-out litigation war that increases the company's business risk and does nothing to save the many lives that are being lost on Chevron's watch in the forest.

In the end, these two and others associated with Chevron could very well face personal exposure over the Ecuador liability given the unethical, dubious, and potentially illegal tactics being used.

As the enforcement action in Canada proceeds and interest on the judgment runs, we suspect neither Canada's judiciary nor the financial markets will be impressed with Chevron's approach.

(For a summary of some of the gross misconduct from Chevron and Gibson Dunn, see this sworn affidavit from Ecuadorian lawyer Juan Pablo Saenz. Some of the Gibson Dunn lawyers involved in the conspiracy to present false testimony via Guerra include Randy Mastro, Avi Weitzman, Reed Brodsky, William Thomson and Andrea Neumann. In another incident, the High Court of London recently sanctioned a Gibson Dunn lawyer for presenting false witness testimony to try to frame a political enemy of one of the firm's clients, the African government of Djibouti. In the Ecuador case, the firm has been sanctioned by a U.S. federal judge and criticized for using discovery motions to harass Chevron's critics and present false testimony about the case to the U.S. Congress.)

(For a summary of the evidence against Chevron in Ecuador, see here. For a summary of the cancer problem in Ecuador created on Chevron's watch, see here. For photos of the people in Ecuador Chevron says don't matter, see this essay in The Huffington Post. For a 60 Minutes segment on Chevron's pollution in Ecuador, see here.)