NEW YORK, Sep. 28 /CSRwire/ – Desperate to avoid paying a $19 billion environmental judgment from Ecuador, Chevron has launched a retaliation campaign by trying to gain access to years of activity of the private email accounts of 101 people who have some connection to the lawsuit – including about 15 summer interns who worked on the case years ago while in college or attending law school.
The majority of the people whose private email accounts Chevron is seeking either worked on the case briefly as interns, or simply interacted with as few as one or two emails with a lawyer on the matter, said Hinton. Chevron obtained their email addresses via discovery proceedings against lawyers for the Ecuadorians in the U.S., and then issued subpoenas directly to Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to get years of information related to the accounts. Forty-four accounts are with Google; 30 with Microsoft’s Hotmail and 27 with Yahoo.
One Google account holder, Australian law professor Kevin Jon Heller, is a popular blogger and journalist who has been critical of Chevron and who exchanged two emails with Steven Donziger, the longtime American lawyer for the indigenous groups.
Heller reported today that he was able to persuade Chevron to withdraw the subpoena against his Google email account after the ACLU contacted the company’s lawyers at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, who immediately backed down when they found out he was represented. Heller blasted Chevron in a blog posting today, saying he felt “shock” and “anger” and suggested the company tried to “intimidate” him.
A representative of the rainforest groups in Ecuador who have suffered at the hands of Chevron’s contamination for decades also blasted the company, calling the latest tactic “shocking in the extreme” and calling on Chevron CEO John Watson to order the withdrawal of the subpoenas. Among the emails subpeoned are those held by the wives and friends of two Ecuadorian lawyers working for the rainforest villagers.
“Chevron can’t win the legal case on the merits, so it pays the Gibson Dunn law firm to serve as a goon squad to intimidate people who the company thinks do not have the resources to fight back,” said Karen Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for the Ecuadorians.
“This is ultimately on Watson,” she added. ”This is part of an un-American pattern that has been going on at Chevron under his watch where Chevron’s legal team feels it has the liberty to attack the perceived enemies of the company.”
In reference to the subpoenas, Hinton added: “It is clear that Chevron is engaged in a coordinated scheme to invade the privacy of dozens of people who have tried to hold the company accountable for environmental crimes, or who just simply wanted information about the case.”
The underlying lawsuit, initially filed in 1993 in U.S. court but shifted to Ecuador at Chevron’s request, resulted in the largest environmental judgment in history. The eight-year trial produced evidence the company deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into the water supply of indigenous groups from 1964 to 1992, decimating local cultures and causing an outbreak of cancer that has killed or threatens to kill thousands of people.
The Gibson Dunn law firm, which served the subpoenas, has been sanctioned repeatedly by courts in Ecuador and the U.S. for engaging in unethical behavior on behalf of Chevron.
Aside from the subpoenas of the email accounts, Chevron’s latest attacks include:
- The orchestrated firing by Chevron General Counsel R. Hewitt Pate of a young lawyer from his corporate law job because he had served as a summer intern on the case in Quito more than five years ago. The lawyer in question received a severance package to “go away” so his firm could keep Chevron as a valued client.
- Another former summer intern on the case, Aaron Marr Page, has been repeatedly targeted by Chevron with subpoenas and has had to spend countless hours and significant legal fees to defend the privilege of confidentiality he owed to his clients. Page is a former associate at Clearly Gottlieb, a top U.S. law firm.
For years, Chevron has been met with intense criticism for trying to suppress the free speech rights of its critics over the Ecuador case.
For example, in 2010, Chevron CEO Watson had several shareholder activists arrested at the company’s annual meeting when they tried to confront him on the Ecuador issue. Watson had the shareholders removed, handcuffed, and booked before charges were ultimately dropped.
Earlier this year, Chevron’s chief nemesis – New York sole practitioner Donziger – hired a former FBI agent to protect his family after he discovered that he, his wife, and young son were being followed and videotaped on a 24/7 basis around Manhattan by six agents, all apparently Chevron operatives.
In Ecuador, members of the plaintiffs’ legal team have been routinely harassed and threatened. Amnesty International, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the United Nations Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders have all issued “urgent actions” and “precautionary measures” to protect those on the front lines of the case.
Chevron, which has refused to pay the judgment, currently faces seizure actions against billions of dollars of company assets in Canada and Brazil. Donziger also has sued the company in U.S. court for extortion and fraud related to its unethical and improper defense of the Ecuador action.
Chevron also is facing a criminal investigation after federal authorities discovered that the company detoured pollutants around monitoring equipment at its Richmond, California refinery and burned them off into the atmosphere in violation of a court order.
- Chevron Faces Midnight Deadline in $19 Billion Ecuador Judgment (ens-newswire.com)
- The Chevron Oil Pollution Mess Gets Messier (businessweek.com)