Friday, May 19, 2017

Journalist Roger Parloff Blows It Again Over Chevron's Ecuador Pollution Case

Journalist Roger Parloff, who recently left Fortune magazine, has resurfaced as a writer for Yahoo Finance. But one thing that hasn't changed is his dishonest and unbalanced reporting in favor of Chevron in the historic Ecuador pollution case where the company faces a huge liability for its toxic dumping in the rainforest.

Parloff recently published a story on the case Yahoo Finance that completely ignored critical new evidence that devastates Chevron's defenses, including that its star witness admitted that he repeatedly lied on the stand after being paid $2 million by the company. The villagers who won the $9.5 billion judgment are currently enforcing it against Chevron's assets in Canada and Brazil. But Parloff also refused to explain the huge significance of legal developments in those two countries -- developments whose importance dwarfs developments in the U.S. phase of the proceedings.

As background, courts in Ecuador where Chevron insisted the trial be held found the company guilty of dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste in Ecuador's Amazon region, decimating indigenous groups and causing an outbreak cancer confirmed by several independent studies. Company officials led by CEO John Watson refused to pay the judgment and threatened the villagers with a "lifetime of litigation" if they persisted in pursuing their claims.

(See this New York Times story for background and this summary of the overwhelming evidence against the company. Here is the Ecuador Supreme Court decision issued in 2013 affirming Chevron's liability.)

Parloff's article focused largely on a narrow appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court by the villagers and their lawyer, Steven Donziger, over a retaliatory "racketeering" judgment obtained by Chevron in the United States from Judge Lewis A. Kaplan. That ruling, issued after the judge refused to seat a jury, was based on evidence fabricated by Chevron and presented via a company witness who claimed with no corroborating evidence that the Ecuador judgment was "ghostwritten" by the plaintiffs.

The sad spectacle of the Kaplan judgment -- where a U.S. trial judge tried to reverse a decision by a foreign country's judiciary -- is so bizarre and unprecedented that it has little relevance regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court decides to do. Neither Kaplan nor the justices have the power to block enforcement actions in Canada and Brazil where all of Chevron's evidentiary problems with its lying witness will be on full display.

Already, in a very bad sign for Chevron, Canada's Supreme Court rejected the company's attempt to use Kaplan's false "findings" to block an asset seizure action filed by the Ecuadorians targeting some of the company's oil fields, refineries, and other assets in that country.

Kaplan's judgment also was based on a "Dickensian farce" of a proceeding in the words of prominent attorney John Keker, who withdrew his representation of Donziger in protest. Kaplan allowed Chevron's "evidence" to be fully presented while he barred all evidence of Chevron's toxic dumping and fraud in Ecuador that was used to find the company liable. He also excluded Donziger's counterclaims that outline Chevron's environmental crimes, sham remediation, and attempts to harass and silence company critics.

The latest U.S. Supreme Court appeal that attracted Parloff's attention will present an important test for the justices. The court should of course toss the Kaplan decision because of the false evidence and a myriad of other legal problems, including the chilling implications of letting wealthy corporations use the RICO statute to try to silence human rights victims and their lawyers. (For summaries and links to the various briefs, see here, here, and here.)

In his article for Yahoo Finance, Parloff also failed to mention that 19 international law scholars and 17 civil advocacy groups have urged the high court to reverse Kaplan's decision. Or that Earth Rights International, probably the leading environmental justice legal shop in the country, has condemned the Kaplan ruling as one based on illegal witness payments and other malfeasance.

Parloff instead used the platform of Yahoo Finance to reinforce Chevron's tired arguments designed to "demonize" Donziger who for years has led the battle against the company's fraud and corruption. (See this article in Rolling Stone.) Parloff also failed to mention that Chevron paid $2 million to the discredited witness who falsely claimed the judgment was written by the plaintiffs.

That Chevron witness, Alberto Guerra, admitted under oath in a separate proceeding that he lied about several critical issues before Kaplan. Separately, a new forensic analysis by one of the world's leading computer experts proved Guerra's "ghostwriting" story was false. Yet Chevron, Kaplan, and a federal appellate court continue to credit the Guerra testimony, casting a mighty large stain on the reputation of our federal judiciary.

This information about Chevron's use of Guerra as its paid stooge has been readily available in public legal filings for years. It recently was documented meticulously in an explosive new 33-page report called How U.S. Courts Got It Wrong In Chevron's Amazon Pollution Case. The report, released last week and written by lawyers for the Ecuadorians, demonstrates how Chevron's false evidence and fraud have infected the U.S. legal proceedings.

Again, Parloff ignored all of it.

When at Fortune, Parloff consistently wrote articles parroting the points in Chevron's legal arguments while squelching letters of dissent pointing out deficiencies in his reporting. Already, there are signs he has tried to delete comments critical of his article on Yahoo Finance.

One of those comments was posted by Aaron Page, a lawyer for the villagers. Page offered this about Parloff's apparent attempt to launder Chevron talking points through a legitimate news outlet:
This reporter [Parloff] is the master of hyperventilation. He was a critical asset of Chevron as it fanned the flames of outrage and indignation in the early days of the RICO case. Most of the allegations from those days were quietly dropped from the case (like Chevron's "demand" for an impartial jury to hear the case was dropped). To fill the gaps, Chevron... procured false testimony of a "bribe" and "ghost-writing" from an obviously corrupt individual. 
Page continues:
In other words, the RICO judgment is UNQUESTIONABLY founded on false evidence. Yet Kaplan, the Second Circuit, and now Parloff couldn't care less. Their hit job on Donziger is complete.
For more background on the history of dishonest pro-Chevron journalism offered by Parloff and two other legal journalists who repeatedly fanned outrage against Donziger and the Ecuadorian villagers, see this excellent blog by Kevin Koenig of Amazon Watch.

With this track record, the editors at Yahoo Finance might want to hire an extra fact checker to scrutinize Parloff's copy whenever he submits a story about the Ecuador environmental case.