Submitted by: Amazon Watch
Posted: Jan 23, 2014 – 11:00 AM EST
WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 /CSRwire/ - More than 40 U.S. civil society groups are coming to the defense of the Ecuadorian indigenous and farmer communities who won a historic environmental lawsuit against Chevron but have been subject to vicious retaliatory attacks by the company, according to a letter released today.
In all, 41 civil society organizations—including the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Avaaz.org and Friends of the Earth—signed the letter condemning Chevron’s scorched-earth litigation strategy that the company is using to try to delay payment of the $9.5 billion judgment imposed on it for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into Ecuador’s rainforest. Chevron operated in Ecuador under the Texaco brand from 1964 to 1992, and much of its pollution still exists and continues to contaminate groundwater and rivers, according to the Ecuador court.
Shortly before the Ecuador court ruled against Chevron in February 2011, the company countersued or subpoenaed all 47 villagers who sued the oil giant and their lawyers, their scientific consultants and supporters in the U.S., including several shareholders as well as Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network, a prominent documentary filmmaker and various bloggers. The company used a civil racketeering statute (known as RICO) passed by Congress and intended to target the Mafia, but turned it on its head to target human rights advocates and their Ecuadorian allies. Chevron used at least 2,000 legal personnel and 60 law firms in the effort and to keep the Ecuadorians at bay, according to observers. Chevron filed discovery lawsuits against the Ecuadorians and their consultants in over two dozen U.S. courts and subpoenaed the emails of about 100 environmental activists and other supporters not directly associated with the lawsuit.
Also today, the Ecuadorians’ U.S. legal advisor, Steven Donziger, announced Deepak Gupta of Gupta Beck in Washington, D.C. as his lead appellate counsel on the RICO case. Gupta, 36 and an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law School, worked for seven years at the Public Citizen Litigation Group before founding his own law firm in 2012. He has argued several significant cases before federal and state appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. See here for more on Gupta’s arguments in a final brief in the RICO trial, filed yesterday.
Chevron’s “tactics represent a threat to any civil society effort to challenge corporate power and prevent abuses,” said the letter, which can be read in full here.
“Chevron has targeted environmental and indigenous rights groups and individual activists with subpoenas designed to cripple their effectiveness and chill their speech,” said the letter. “By asserting that its most vocal critics are ‘conspirators’…Chevron has attempted to force organizations to turn over all their internal planning and strategy documents and the identities of their supporters…Advocacy in all its forms is in jeopardy.”
Chevron’s strategy is designed to “intimidate” its critics into abandoning their support for the Ecuadorians so the company “can win by might what it cannot win on the merits,” said Ecuadorian attorney Pablo Fajardo, winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize for his work on the case.
Chevron has also engaged in corporate espionage against its principal targets, U.S. attorney Donziger and Fajardo. It has employed more than 180 people from Kroll, an investigations service that operates as sort of a private CIA. During the Ecuador trial, Chevron was caught trying to recruit a U.S. journalist to spy on the villagers in Ecuador. One U.S.-based Chevron lawyer, Andres Rivero, even admitted to offering tens of thousands of dollars in cash from suitcases to pay witnesses in Ecuador.
U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan has yet to rule, but he has openly sided with Chevron. Donziger and the Ecuadorians have promised to immediately seek a stay of any adverse decision, which is not expected to impact existing judgment enforcement actions in Canada, Brazil and Argentina.
“The Sierra Club stands with the brave Ecuadorians who have taken on Chevron to protect their families and the Amazon rainforest,” adds Michael Marx, Sierra Club beyond oil campaign director. “Today I have a message for Chevron: While you are wily, you are not above the law. You’ve abused the legal system, attacked free speech, and assaulted the truth to avoid responsibility for nearly 30 years of poisoning people in one of the most ecologically important areas on Earth. More than 83,000 Sierra Club supporters have contacted ten U.S. Senators asking for their assistance in making sure that Chevron is held responsible for one of the world’s great tragedies of oil company arrogance and incompetence.”
The Sierra Club, which has more than one million members, has already generated over 80,000 messages to key members of the U.S. Senate seeking an investigation of Chevron. The messages are being sent to Senators Barbara Boxer, Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal, Al Franken, Patrick J. Leahy, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jon Tester, Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown and Robert Menendez. A copy of the message can be found here.
“Congress must act immediately to protect ordinary people who suffer from, and speak out against, corporate crimes,” said the letter. “Chevron has grossly misused the RICO statute to attack free speech and vilify those critical of its actions.”
The Ecuadorian villagers, who have been locked in a two-decade legal battle with Chevron after the oil giant insisted the case be shifted from U.S. federal court to Ecuador, hailed the organizations for supporting their efforts.
Donziger also is being represented by two professors who run a course on high-impact litigation at the University of Denver Law School, Justin Marceau and John Campbell. Students who take the class, which was designed for the Ecuador case, will be assisting Gupta’s legal team with research projects.