It seemed like every environmental activist’s dream: you convince a Hollywood film director to make a movie about corporate pollution, unveil the film at the Sundance Film Festival, and point the finger at the big corporate villain who did wrong. Then you place the film in theaters across the nation and hold a series of special events with movie stars who gush about how corporations are evil and their cause is just.
Atossa Soltani, right, founder and executive
director of Amazon Watch
That’s how it initially appeared for environmental activist group Amazon Watch, plaintiff attorney Steven Donziger and their supporters who backed a lawsuit against Chevron for allegedly polluting the Amazon region of Ecuador.
They convinced “Some Kind of Monster” director Joe Berlinger to make a movie entitled “Crude: The True Cost of Oil,” which premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. While the movie never garnered a wide audience, it served as an excellent publicity vehicle for their $27 billion lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador.
But this dream has turned into a nightmare and legal quagmire for the environmental activists, their attorneys and the deep-pocket backers of their lawsuit against Chevron. In fact, it’s worse than that: the movie has threatened the credibility of the case as well as the reputations of attorney Donziger, filmmaker Berlinger, environmental activists Amazon Watch and their publicist Karen Hinton, and financial backer, law firm Kohn Swift and Graf. And, the damage being done to these individuals and organizations is just starting to be seen.
What turned “Crude,” a movie designed to destroy Chevron’s reputation, into the company’s best defense? In short, the outtakes from the movie were more potent than the film itself.
Chevron attorneys demanded outttakes from the film and won a court battle that forced Berlinger to turn over some of the footage not shown in the theatrically released version of his movie.
Not only do the outtakes prove Chevron’s longheld belief that the case against Texaco (purchased by Chevron in 2001) is fraudulent, but it shows the extent of the manipulation that Donziger, Amazon Watch, and others created to frame Chevron.
The recently released footage shows that two weeks before his appointment as the global expert on damages, the “independent” court expert Richard Stalin Cabrera was present at a March 3, 2007, meeting at which plaintiffs lawyers and consultants planned extensive coordination with him. According to a transcript of the tape, in the course of discussing the plan, plaintiffs’ lawyer Steven Donziger says to Cabrera: “Richard, of course you really have to be comfortable with all that.” Pablo Fajardo, the local plaintiffs’ lawyer, exhorts everyone present to “make certain that the expert constantly coordinates with the plaintiffs’ technical and legal team.” He also notes: “Chevron’s main problem right now is that it doesn’t know what the hell is going to happen in the global expert examination.”
“I hope none of you tell them, please,” Fajardo adds. After the laughter fades, he sums up: “What the expert is going to do is [unintelligible] and sign the report and review it. But all of us [unintelligible] have to contribute to that report,” according to a story in the American Law Litigation Daily.
This week’s story in Law.com shows the outtake from the movie “Crude” of Fajardo giving a PowerPoint presentation that envisions the extensive coordination with the independent damages expert. Cabrera, who will be appointed to this role two weeks later by the Ecuadorian court, is also in the room, although he does not appear in this segment. Chevron says this meeting shows that plaintiffs ghostwrote Cabrera’s report, recommending $27 billion in damages, according to Law.Com.
The conversations from the outtakes raise questions about Donziger, Luis Yanza (Ecuadorian coordinator for the plaintiffs) and Atossa Soltani, founder and director of Amazon Watch in San Francisco and their role and motives in the lawsuit.
When the legal case is ultimately decided, the turning point will be undoubtedly the outtakes from “Crude.” And what people will see is a fascinating study of self-destruction by Donziger, Berlinger, Amazon Watch and it founder Atossa Soltani, publicist Karen Hinton, attorney Joe Kohn and others who attempted to manipulate the media and the legal system to benefit their personal ideological and financial desires.
See Related: CHEVRON ECUADORAN JUDICIAL SCANDAL
SENTINEL FOUNDER PAT MURPHY