Court Filings Show '60 Minutes' Hero Donziger Colluded with Ecuadoran Government to Defraud Chevron

August 4th, 2010 3:35 PM

These are some of the outtakes that the Ecuadoran plaintiff lawyer Steve Donziger probably wished were left on the cutting room floor.

Back in May 2009, CBS's "60 Minutes" featured a story on the legal conflict between Chevron and an eco-group called the Amazon Defense Coalition for $27.4 billion in so-called environmental damage in Ecuador's rain forest from then-Texaco Petroleum's (Texpet) operation of oil well sites over a decade ago. However, in 1998, the government of Ecuador certified that Texpet, a minority partner in an exploration and production venture state-owned oil company PetroEcuador, had met Ecuadorian and international remediation standards and had released Texpet from future claims and obligations.

During that May 3 broadcast, Donziger was portrayed by CBS "60 Minutes" correspondent Scott Pelley as a shining individual with a deeply rooted compassion for the indigenous people of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

"We traveled downriver in search of an Indian tribe which is part of the group suing Chevron. For centuries this has been the territory of the Secoyas," Pelley said. "We sat with two of their leaders who said they had never seen oil until it was on the river. Humberto told us oil looked like flowing black blankets and ruined the fishing. The Secoyas took us to their community hut, where we saw the driving force behind the suit, Stephen Donziger, a New York lawyer, far from home."

However, the National Association of Manufacturers blog, in a post by Carter Wood, reports a legal filing from Chevron with a transcription of outtakes from the movie "Crude" by Joe Berlinger, which were left out of the actual film, portrays Donziger in a less-the-flattering light, or as he would say, "a bunch of smoke and mirrors and bulls**t." (filings available here):

"Hold on a second, you know, this is Ecuador ... You can say whatever you want and at the end of the day, there's a thousand people around the courthouse, you're going to get what you want. Sorry, but it's true." "Because at the end of the day, this is all for the Court just a bunch of smoke and mirrors and bullshit. It really is. We have enough, to get money, to win."

Wood also pointed out those filings suggest a "sordid orchestration of the claims against Chevron, with Steven Donziger being the cynical conductor" - that this random figure $27.4-billion figure was in fact not assigned independently:

The Crude Outtakes Show That Plaintiffs' Counsel and Consultants Planned and Created the Supposedly Independent $27.4 Billion "Global Expert Assessment"

The outtakes that Chevron has reviewed so far leave no doubt that Plaintiffs arranged for Cabrera's appointment and decided what Cabrera's report would say, and that Plaintiffs' lawyers and their U.S. consultants - not independent experts working for Cabrera - drafted Cabrera's initial work plan and ultimately his damages assessment in the Lago Agrio Litigation.

In a separate post also dated Aug. 3, Wood shows these filings suggest there's probably more to be revealed in these outtakes: 

"It would strain the Second Circuit's Order to include only footage of counsel and not footage of those working on behalf of or in concert with Plaintiffs' counsel. There is little question that groups such as Soltani's Amazon Watch and Amazon Defense Front have been working on behalf of or in concert with Plaintiffs' counsel in connection with the Lago Agrio Litigation, and thus footage of personnel from those groups should be produced pursuant to the Second Circuit's Order. Indeed, recognizing the role that personnel from such organizations have played on behalf of Plaintiffs' counsel, Berlinger has treated Luis Yanza and other members of Amazon Defense Front as part of Plaintiffs' litigation team, and has already produced footage including Luis Yanza. See Ex. U. Nonetheless, during the meet and confer, Berlinger's counsel stated that Mr. Berlinger has taken the position that communications with or film involving Amazon Watch and the Frente are privileged, even though they stand effectively in the same position as Yanza. But Plaintiffs have asserted in the District Court in Colorado that the Frente, Amazon Watch, and Karen Hinton are so closely aligned that they fall within the circle of attorney-client privilege. Ex. QQ. They cannot possible contend here that communications with "Plaintiffs' counsel" do not include Karen Hinton, the Frente, and Amazon Watch."

There have been a lot of questions surrounding the legitimacy of case. Last September, an undercover camera showed the judge in the case willing to participate in a $3 million bribery scheme.

Will "60 Minutes,"and also The New York Times as well, run follow-up pieces about the questions surrounding the case they touted as important to the people Ecuador? Time can only tell.