Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Chevron Named "Corporate Bully of the Year" For Attacks On Ecuadorian Indigenous Peoples and Steven Donziger

Chevron's reputation as a major polluter and human rights abuser took another hit this week when it "won" the "Corporate Bully of the Year" award from a coalition of prominent civil rights and environmental groups. This is all on Chevron's CEO Michael Wirth and General Counsel R. Hewitt Pate, the architects of the company's scorched earth litigation strategy.

Chevron CEO Michael Wirth 
Chevron won the award for its vicious litigation attacks against Ecuadorian Indigenous peoples and one of their U.S. lawyers, Steven Donziger. Donziger in 2011 helped his clients win a landmark $12 billion environmental judgment against the company in Ecuador, where Chevron insisted the trial be held. The judgment was affirmed by four courts in Ecuador and 16 appellate judges, including by the nation's Constitutional Court last July in a unanimous opinion.

Chevron under the leadership of Wirth and Pate has proven itself to be a company that does naturally respect the rule of law.

Since the Ecuador trial court decision issued, Chevron has spent an estimated $2 billion on 60 law firms and 2,000 lawyers to attack the Ecuadorian peoples -- primarily through a civil racketeering case in the U.S. based largely on false testimony from an admittedly corrupt company witness paid $2 million to lie in federal court. One Chevron official  admitted that the company's main defense to the Ecuador judgment was to "demonize" Donziger, a Harvard Law grad called a man of "Herculean tenacity" by BusinessWeek.

Background on the "Corporate Bully" award -- granted by a new anti-SLAPP coalition called Protect The Protest -- is here and in this press release. For a deeper appreciation of the unethical and even criminal behavior of Chevron and its lawyers at the Gibson Dunn firm -- including evidence they engaged in fraud and witness bribery -- see this referral letter sent to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The anti-SLAPP coalition is dedicated to stopping a new corporate playbook pushed by Chevron's law firm Gibson Dunn and other copycat companies to "criminalize" legitimate advocacy that threatens corporate interests. Members of the coalition include Greenpeace, the ACLU, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Earth Rights International, and Amazon Watch. Greenpeace itself has been targeted with two SLAPP lawsuits in recent years.

In awarding Chevron the "Bully" award, the Protect the Protest coalition concluded the following:
Chevron's litigation strategy in 2018 followed the same playbook it had been using for years: bully, harass, intimidate... Chevron has only ramped up its bully tactics in what has been described as the "vengeance stage" of its 25-year long legal effort to avoid accountability for oil-spilling in Ecuador. Despite spending an estimated $2 billion to hire 60 law firms and 2,000 law firms to pursue the case, Chevron spent most of 2018 trying to strip away Donziger's license to practice law and bankrupt him through the recovery of attorney fees. More recently, Chevron has issued aggressive and far-reaching subpoenas to pursue third-party critics of the energy giant. This has included Katie Sullivan, a small business owner who volunteered to help fundraise and organize documents for Ecuadorian victims, who testified that she had to personally spend at least $170,000 in legal fees trying to comply with Chevron's subpoena as well as endure Chevron's harassment of her clients.
Katie Sullivan was another victim of a Chevron SLAPP attack designed to silence critics by threatening enormous legal fees and hassle in violation of First Amendment-protected Free Speech. (SLAPP is an academic term that stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.)

Chevron General Counsel Hew Pate
Patricio Salazar, the lead Ecuadorian lawyer for the Ecuadorian communities, said Chevron's bully award is "most deserving" given the destruction the company caused in the South American nation. Salazar said: "There is probably no more bullying and abusive company in the world than Chevron when it comes to using the civil justice system to try to intimidate its perceived enemies."

Remember that Chevron still faces a major enforcement action against its assets in Canada, which are large enough to pay the entirety of the Ecuador judgment. Canada's Supreme Court already has backed the right of the Ecuadorians to pursue that case. That decision last year prompted 36 Chevron institutional shareholders to urge Wirth to explore a settlement rather than face growing financial and reputational risk.

The real lesson for Wirth and Pate is that while bullying might buy time, it is not a sustainable long-term defense strategy to a legitimate legal case. The strategy is also illegal. Chevron's Board of Directors needs to step up and get the company's CEO and General Counsel under control.

In the meantime, congratulations to Chevron's top executives. With thousands of Indigenous peoples and farmers dead from cancer in Ecuador from your deliberate toxic dumping, you definitely have earned this miserable award.