Roger Parloff of Fortune has this excellent summary of where the controversy stands. Before the new revelations, it had been taken for granted in many quarters that the large oil company was guilty as charged in the environmental suit — not least because a widely hailed independent documentary film advanced that position, as did “a sympathetic 12,600-word article for Vanity Fair in 2007.” But here’s what a U.S. Magistrate Judge said in a ruling last week: “While this court is unfamiliar with the practices of the Ecuadorian judicial system, the court must believe that the concept of fraud is universal, and that what has blatantly occurred in this matter would in fact be considered fraud by any court. If such conduct does not amount to fraud in a particular country, then that country has larger problems than an oil spill.” It’s sad to think we might have to start reading those 12,600-word Vanity Fair articles with a more skeptical eye.
I’ve got a post at Point of Law detailing a judge’s ruling chastising, and imposing sanctions on, three lawyers (including one who’s fairly famous) who sued the oil company on behalf of supposed cancer victims in Ecuador; it turned out some of the victims 1) didn’t have cancer and 2) weren’t aware a suit was being filed in the U.S. in their name. (Oct. 25; and see Roger Parloff’s excellent post on the episode at Fortune “Legal Pad”).
“If you say anything remotely critical about the Ecuadorian government, you may face a copyright takedown,” wrote Maira Sutton at EFF in May. A Spanish firm that represents the government of Ecuador, Ares Rights, has sent out many such takedown demands, related to media accounts of surveillance, corruption, and the country’s Lago Agrio legal dispute with Chevron. More recently, following growing scrutiny of its own activities, Ares Rights has aimed takedown demands citing supposed copyright infringement against its own critics, including Adam Steinbaugh. Details: Mike Masnick, TechDirt; Ken at Popehat. It has also represented the government of Argentina.
The large law firm, which is also Washington, D.C.’s biggest lobbying firm, will pay $15 million, express regret and withdraw from representing Ecuadorian environmental complainants to settle the oil company’s charges that it had participated in a litigation scheme that Chevron has called fraudulent and extortionate. “It also agreed to assist Chevron with discovery against the Ecuadoran plaintiffs and their New York-based lawyer, Steven Donziger,” as well as hand over its five percent share of any moneys the plaintiffs happen to win when the whole thing is over. [Washington Post; Paul Barrett, Bloomberg Business Week; our coverage of the case over years]
The partner from the prominent plaintiff’s and class-action firm testified that he signed on to the much-ballyhooed environmental suit against Chevron, then backed out almost immediately after seeing the ethical issues [Reuters]
P.S. Testimony from Philadelphia attorney Joseph Kohn of Kohn, Swift, & Graf also appears unhelpful, to say the least, to Steven Donziger’s case [Paul Barrett, Bloomberg Business Week]
In the latest remarkable development in the long-running case, the expert consultancy that assisted the plaintiffs, after being sued by Chevron, has flipped:
Stratus Consulting, based in Boulder, Colo., said in a press release today that it “was misled” by [lead plaintiff’s attorney Steven] Donziger. Stratus went on to say that the plaintiffs’ legal team used its extensive research as the basis of a 4,000-page report filed with the court in Lago Agrio, Ecuador. The report was supposed to be neutral and independent, but it was not, Stratus said. The consulting firm described a court process in Ecuador that “was tainted by Donziger and the Lago Agrio plaintiffs representatives’ behind-the-scenes activities.”
The Donziger camp fights back — and personally attacks veteran legal reporter Paul Barrett of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, who wrote the above summary — in comments here and here. Much more from Daniel Fisher at Forbes; you can read the damning affidavits from relevant actors at Stratus Consulting here and here.
Via an AP dispatch, the Washington Post covers another round, from Argentina, in the long squabbling over whether American-led lawyers can get foreign courts to enforce a $19 billion environmental judgment from the Ecuadorian courts. You’d think this would have made a good occasion for AP or the Post to mention, at least, the sensational developments of three days ago, in which Chevron filed with a court a sworn affidavit in which a former Ecuadorian judge said that he and a second judge had allowed plaintiff’s lawyers to ghostwrite their judgment in exchange for a promised bribe of $500,000. Those allegations were dramatic enough to generate prompt, substantial coverage in places like Fortune, Reuters, Bloomberg, and Forbes, yet the Post still hasn’t mentioned them, unless you count a vague reference in the AP item to longstanding charges of fraud on both sides.
- Urban planning itself “has become the externality” [Randal O’Toole, Cato, quoting a New Zealand official]
- New William Fischel book Zoning Rules! [Emily Washington, Market Urbanism]
- If you didn’t catch the earlier update, Jim Epstein at Reason has a critique of the New York Times’s claim to have discovered a miscarriage cluster among nail salon workers;
- Now available: latest annual report on bounty-hunting under California’s Prop 65 [Bruce Nye/Cal Biz Lit with analysis]
- Jane Jacobs vs. Robert Moses: the opera [Jesse Walker, Reason]
- Urbanization is good for the environment [Marian Tupy, Cato]
- Regarding those reports that a major witness in the Chevron Ecuador case “recanted” [Paul Barrett, Business Week]
- End of the road at last for Steven Donziger, impresario of Chevron/Ecuador litigation? [Joe Nocera, Bloomberg]
- Building expensive housing improves housing availability at every income level [Sonja Trauss, Market Urbanism Report]
- “Ms. Durst did what any law-abiding citizen would do: She demolished the structure and tossed the twigs, moss and shells into the woods…. The fairy house wasn’t up to code.” [Ellen Byron, WSJ, courtesy Regulatory Transparency Project]
- Last month’s judicial rejection of NYC climate suit came after plenty of foreshadowing [Daniel Fisher (“persuasive authorities” were two overturned court decisions); New York Daily News and New York Post editorials]
- Ban on smoking in public housing reflects truism that unless you own property, your home isn’t really your castle [Shane Ferro, Above the Law]
- Obama-era Waters of the U.S. regulations are a power grab asserting EPA control over farmers’ ditches, seasonal moist depressions, and watering holes; one federal court has now reinstated the rules, but the issue is headed to SCOTUS and Congress in any case ought to kill them [Jonathan Adler; Ariel Wittenberg, E&E News; earlier]