Chevron Named "Corporate Bully of the Year" for Attacks on Ecuadorian Indigenous Peoples and Their Supporters
Oil Giant Continues SLAPP Strategy to “Bully” and “Intimidate” Its Adversaries in Landmark $12B Pollution Case
NEW YORK, NY - Chevron took another major hit this week over its Ecuador pollution disaster after a coalition of prominent civil rights groups named the company the “Corporate Bully of the Year” for its vicious attacks against Indigenous peoples and their counsel who won a landmark $12 billion environmental judgment.
The award was announced Monday by the SLAPP Task Force, a coalition of prominent advocacy groups that includes the ACLU, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, Earth Rights International, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The group’s mission is to stop SLAPP lawsuits, defined as legal actions launched by corporations or governments designed to harass and silence critics in violation of the First Amendment.
By bestowing the award on Chevron, the group focused attention on the company’s avowed “demonization campaign” targeting U.S. human rights attorney and solo practitioner Steven Donziger, a Harvard Law grad and former classmate of President Obama. Chevron has used dozens of law and public relations firms to try target Donziger – described by BusinessWeek magazine as a man of “Herculean tenacity” -- and drive him from the case.
Led by its lawyers at the Gibson Dunn firm, Chevron paid a corrupt witness $2 million to lie under oath that the Ecuador judgment was obtained by fraud, but the witness later recanted most of his testimony. (See here for news article on the corrupt witness; here for details of Chevron’s fraud.) Gibson Dunn previously had been caught trying to frame a man with fake evidence on behalf of a wealthy client.
In bestowing the “Corporate Bully” award on Chevron, the group said: “Chevron’s litigation strategy in 2018 followed the same playbook it has 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 lawyers 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.” (See here for background on Chevron’s attacks against Sullivan.)
Chevron’s SLAPP strategy against the Ecuadorians and their supporters has for the last nine years been greatly facilitated by a pro-business U.S. federal judge, Lewis A. Kaplan. Accused of arrogance by the Ecuadorians, Kaplan has refused to hear evidence of Chevron’s pollution and accepted the paid-for witness testimony of the company’s corrupt witness, Alberto Guerra. He also authorized Chevron to pay secret and still undisclosed payments to the private bank account of a close friend he appointed as Special Master in the case, Max Gitter.
Chevron was found guilty by four layers of courts in Ecuador of deliberately dumping 16 billion gallons of oil waste into the country’s Amazon rainforest, decimating Indigenous groups and causing widespread deaths from cancers and other oil-related diseases. Chevron sold off its assets in Ecuador during the trial and has vowed to fight enforcement actions designed to seize company assets, including one action that is pending in Canada.
Ecuador’s Constitutional Court, in the country where Chevron insisted the trial be held and where it had accepted jurisdiction, affirmed the judgment in a unanimous decision last July. That followed a letter in May from 36 institutional shareholders of Chevron to CEO Michael Wirth urging him to settle the case.
Working out of his small Manhattan apartment, Donziger continues to fight the company along with a team of lawyers in Canada and Ecuador that works largely pro bono. He already has fended off 11 attempts by Chevron to hold him in contempt of court in the U.S. for his work on the case. Just weeks ago, Donziger began to face down a Chevron motion to imprison him if he doesn’t turn over his computer and cell phone to the company.
Donziger also wrote a criminal referral letter to the U.S. Department of Justice outlining how Chevron executives, helped by company lawyers at the Gibson Dunn firm, manufactured evidence and engaged in witness bribery to try to taint the Ecuadorians and their counsel as part of its SLAPP strategy. He also has filed a complaint before the Inter-American Commission On Human Rights against Kaplan and the U.S. government for failing to protect his Free Speech rights. He has attracted the support of many human rights advocates, including the founders of London-based Global Witness, constitutional scholar Martin Garbus, and Harvard Law Professor Charles Nesson.
Patricio Salazar, the lead Ecuadorian lawyer for the affected communities, said Chevron’s award is “most deserving” given the destruction caused in the South American nation.
“I want to salute the many organizations that have come together to highlight the dangerous threat that SLAPP lawsuits pose to Free Speech in our society,” 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. Steven Donziger is a hero to us for standing up to the company.”
Donziger said there was no particular formula for resisting SLAPP lawsuits other than to keep fighting.
“The first step is to recognize what it is and call out the perpetrators for engaging in misconduct,” Donziger said. “The second step is to avoid getting distracted by the antics, as they are designed to neutralize advocacy. The fundamental fact in our case is that the Ecuadorians won and are enforcing the judgment against Chevron’s assets in Canada despite Chevron’s massive expenditures. Chevron and its CEO Michael Wirth simply cannot stop the forward momentum.”
For more background on Chevron’s broader intimidation campaign, see this article by Greenpeace co-founder Rex Weyler. Here is an article about how Chevron pressured a business owner to sign a false affidavit and spend more than $170,000 in legal fees after she tried to help the affected communities.