Thursday, November 9, 2017

21-0: Ecuadorian Communities Are Dominating Chevron In Canada's Appellate Courts

Chevron's strategy to block enforcement of its $9.5 billion environmental liability in Canada is on the rocks. The company now has lost three straight decisions (see here, here, and here) in Canada's appellate courts to Ecuadorian indigenous peoples and farmer communities. To cover up this debacle, Chevron General Counsel R. Hewitt Pate continues to bullsh*t -- sorry, mislead  -- company shareholders about the growing risk faced by his company.

Chevron's string of losses in Canada comes after Mr. Pate hired several large Canadian law firms -- who send mostly older white men in suits to court -- to try to block indigenous peoples from collecting a judgment the oil giant was ordered to pay to remediate the extensive damage to the rainforest caused by its systematic dumping of oil waste from 1964 to 1992. As journalist Alexander Zaitchik wrote in his latest article on the case: "Ecuadorian Villagers Are Fighting Chevron In Canada -- And Winning."

The affected communities in Ecuador are not just winning, but dominating.

Thirteen appellate judges in Canada have ruled in their favor since the enforcement action was filed. In Ecuador, eight appellate judges have ruled in favor of the villagers. None have ruled for Chevron in either country. For those keeping score, that's 21-0 in favor of the villagers in appellate courts in Ecuador and Canada. (Here is a summary of the overwhelming evidence against Chevron.)

Chevron's latest reversal in Canada came last week when a three-judge panel on the Ontario Court of Appeal strongly criticized the company for trying to end the Ecuador litigation by imposing a $1 million costs order on the indigenous groups. The decision was a stunning setback for Chevron.

Chevron's courtroom carnage in Canada dates to 2013 when Ecuador's Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the indigenous groups after an eight-year trial in the forum where the company insisted the trial be held. Chevron refused to pay the judgment and sold its assets in Ecuador, threatening the indigenous groups with a "lifetime of litigation" if they persisted.

To force compliance with the law, the affected communities then filed suit in Canada to seize some of Chevron's extensive holdings in the country. Chevron predictably tried to block that action on jurisdictional grounds as part of its campaign to obtain impunity.

Chevron lost the jurisdictional issue in spectacular fashion not only at the Ontario Court of Appeal but also in a stunning 92-page decision issued by all seven justices on the country's Supreme Court. Both decisions were unanimous.

Stuck with an impending trial where it would have to put on the same fabricated evidence of "fraud" that it concocted in the United States to try to evade the Ecuador judgment, Chevron launched a new strategy to try to kill off the case by imposing the costs order.

It would be hard to imagine a greater travesty of justice than a costs order given that Chevron owes its victims $12 billion and refuses to pay. Further, the company surely spent more on legal fees to get the costs order than any amount it would have received from the costs order had it been allowed to stand. Again, that subterfuge was blocked in a third unanimous appellate opinion issued last week.

A score of 21-0 in favor of the communities among appellate judges sounds more like a lopsided football score. In the annals of courtroom battles, it's virtually unprecedented -- not too far from Georgia Tech's infamous 222-0 thrashing of Cumberland College in 1916. That was the most lopsided score in college football history.

The only decision that Chevron has won in the long-running case is one based on clearly fraudulent evidence issued by a compromised U.S. judge Lewis A. Kaplan. (See this report for full documentation of Chevron's fraud in Kaplan's courtroom.) Chevron tries to cite the Kaplan findings in its favor but that decision is now clearly backfiring against the company.

In Canada, the Ontario Court of Appeal made it clear that it would have nothing to do with Kaplan's ruling despite tenacious efforts by Chevron lawyer Larry Lowenstein to act as if trumps the extensive findings of Ecuador's courts -- the only courts to actually hear the voluminous evidence of Chevron's toxic dumping and wrongdoing in the Amazon.

Chevron's next manuever in Canada is to try to eliminate its wholly-owned Canadian subsidiary (Chevron Canada) as a defendant in the enforcement action. The Ontario Court of Appeals will hear argument on that issue soon. If the past is prologue, the appellate tally will look even worse for Chevron after that matter gets resolved.

If all of this appears to have produced a little too much stress for Pate, that certainly would be understandable. Chevron's top lawyer has spent an estimated $2 billion of shareholder funds on the company's defense. Just days ago, he hastily issued a misleading press release claiming the Ecuador judgment was obtained "fraudulently". Chevron then backpedaled and re-issued the same release later in the day with softer (but still misleading) language.

Pate's idea is to try to leave the impression that Chevron is "winning" the case around the world. But an 0-21 record in appellate courts in the two most important jurisdictions is sort of hard to wash away no matter how aromatic the Chevron propaganda. Most companies would have fired their General Counsel long ago for such an atrocious track record when the stakes are so high.

Worse for Pate is that major Canadian citizens, such as national indigenous leaders Phil Fontaine and Ed John along with Greenpeace co-founder Rex Weyler, recently have lined up behind the Ecuadorian indigenous groups. British rock musician Roger Waters of Pink Floyd is also speaking out publicly against Chevron for its refusal to remediate its toxic pollution in Ecuador.

In his article about the string of victories by the Ecuadorians in Canada, Zaitchik quoted the lead Ecuadorian lawyer for the indigenous groups, Patricio Salazar:
"Chevron's entire strategy is based on obstruction and delay. Canadian courts need to put an end to this abuse of the civil justice system. It is unfortunate that this Chevron maneuver to impose a court tax on the people it poisoned got as far as it did."
Steven Donziger, Chevron's main U.S. critic who is being personally targeted before Kaplan with a preposterous $33 million costs order, had this to say to Zaitchik:
"We are confident Chevron's scorched-earth strategy of obstruction and delay will soon run its course, and the company will pay the full amount necessary to clean up its awful pollution in Ecuador which continues to decimate indigenous peoples. Chevron has thrown at least $2 billion and 2,000 lawyers at us to try to obstruct court proceedings. That strategy has failed."  
Well said by both lawyers.

Chevron's Board of Directors needs to think about getting rid of Pate so it can address its Ecuador problem before the repercussions start to negatively affect company operations around the globe. Absent action by the Chevron Board, it might be time for Chevron shareholders to take control of this rapidly deteriorating situation.

What is definitely clear is that Chevron's current management team seems utterly clueless when it comes to Ecuador.