Chevron Wants Access to Emails of Critics

By Robert Kropp,
2 October 2012

The oil company's latest effort to avoid paying a $19 billion judgment for extensive environmental damage in Ecuador involves trying to gain access to the private email accounts of 101 people who have worked on the case.

In a report published earlier this year, author Simon Billenness of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) wrote of Chevron's efforts to avoid paying a $19 billion judgment for extensive environmental damage in Ecuador, "Chevron's defenses to enforcement actions have greatly narrowed."

The judgment against Chevron represents the largest environmental judgment in history.

An appeals court in Ecuador upheld the original court judgment, "giving the plaintiffs the right for the first time to collect on the judgment," Billenness wrote. Furthermore, he continued, "The US Second Circuit vacated in its entirety a preliminary injunction from a US District Court that purported to bar the Ecuadorian plaintiffs from enforcing the judgment against Chevron's assets anywhere in the world."

Instead of acknowledging its liability, however, Chevron's management continues to publish "false or materially misleading information regarding its $18.1 billion judgment in Ecuador for causing environmental damage," according to Graham Erion, an attorney for the rainforest communities. In response to the company's failures of disclosure, a coalition of shareowners sent a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), requesting that it investigate what the coalition describes as "evidence that the company is violating securities laws."

It might seem that effective corporate governance would lead Chevron to abandon its efforts to avoid its corporate responsibility, as it did last week in paying a $17.3 million fine to Brazil for an offshore oil spill last year that released an estimated 155,000 gallons of crude oil. With regards to Ecuador, however, Chevron remains intransigent, as the Amazon Defense Coalition reported last week.

According to the Coalition, "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."

One target of Chevron's subpoenas was Australian law professor Kevin Jon Heller, who had exchanged two emails with Steven Donziger, an American lawyer for the indigenous groups in Ecuador. Chevron withdrew its subpoena seeking access to Heller's email account after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) contacted the company's law firm.

Despite having withdrawn its subpoena, Chevron refused to divulge why it wanted access to Heller's email, he wrote in a blog piece. "It is unacceptable for a party to litigation to try to obtain private information from a blogger-journalist who has criticized its tactics," Heller wrote. "Tactics like this need to be exposed and resisted, no matter who uses them or whom they target; passive acquiescence is simply an invitation to further abuses."

Persisting in calling the judgment "a $19 billion fraud," a Chevron spokesperson said, "We're trying to get to the bottom of that sort of conduct and understand how it contributed to the fraud."

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