From the get-go, we pointed out that the RICO suit Chevron filed against the Ecuadoreans suing the company for massive environmental pollution in the Amazon would be laugh-out-loud funny if it wasn’t so insulting and it didn’t seem so likely that Chevron was actually serious.
Well, it turns out Chevron and its lawyers weren’t really very serious at all. In fact, they have pretty much just admitted that the charges are entirely bogus in their latest court filings. It’s still not terribly funny, though.
American human rights lawyer Steven Donziger was named as the chief defendant in the RICO suit, while several of the Ecuadorean plaintiffs and a good portion of their legal team in Ecuador and here in the States were named as co-defendants (RAN and Amazon Watch were named as co-conspirators). Yesterday, however, Chevron filed a motion to have Donziger removed as the chief defendant in a transparent move to avoid the suit actually going to trial.
Donziger, for his part, was eager to be tried by a jury of his peers and to have the opportunity to respond to Chevron’s absurd allegations. That, as it turns out, is exactly what Chevron is most afraid of.
It was Donziger that Chevron was really going after all along, forcing him to turn over hundreds of thousands of pages worth of documents related to the case as well as to sit through 14 days of being deposed by Chevron’s legal team as retribution for helping the Ecuadoreans in their efforts to hold the company accountable.
But like everything else the company has done during this ongoing legal saga, a PR offensive was always a major part of Chevron’s strategy in prosecuting its RICO suit. In fact, scoring some cheap PR points may have been the only objective in filing the suit in the first place. You could practically feel the smug self-satisfaction radiating out of the computer screen while reading the quote Chevron VP and general counsel R. Hewitt Pate gave to the press when the RICO charges were filed: “[Chevron] has no intention of giving these plaintiffs’ lawyers the payday they seek.” That was Pate’s money shot. (There’s a damn good reason we named Pate as one of Chevron’s Human Rights Hitmen).
What Hewitt Pate was suggesting is obvious: The RICO suit and his quote are both meant to frame the entire Chevron/Ecuador case as an attempt to “extort” money from Chevron. What is equally obvious, now that Chevron is seeking to have Donziger, the supposed mastermind of this imaginary extortion plot, removed from the case altogether, is that Chevron knew all along that the charges were completely without merit and unlikely to fly in a court of law. Furthermore, attempting to prove the charges in court would be embarrassing for Chevron at best, and open the company to new liability at worst. Donziger has enlisted John Keker as his defense attorney — Keker is widely held to be one of the top trial lawyers in the country — and Chevron and its lawyers are now running scared.
To put it another way: Donziger and Keker have called Chevron’s bluff, and the company realized it had no choice but to back off.
This is really not at all surprising. The RICO suit, like Chevron’s egregious “We Agree” ad campaign launched last year, is nothing more than a PR ploy to distract attention from the facts about Chevron’s business operations. Chevron’s top execs, including Pate, have badly mishandled this lawsuit and are jeopardizing the investments of millions of Chevron shareholders. The RICO suit, like the “forged signatures scandal” Chevron came forward with last year, or the “bribery” scandal Chevron’s dirty tricks guy, Diego Borja, supposedly uncovered, is nothing more than a sideshow orchestrated by Chevron and its lawyers/PR hacks to try and focus attention anywhere but on the actual facts of the case.
Judged on the merits of the case alone, Chevron is clearly guilty of poisoning communities in Ecuador and around the world, and refuses to take responsibility for any of it — which is why a court in Ecuador found the company guilty last February and ordered it to pay $9.5 billion to clean up its mess.