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Caught on Tape: Judicial Pressure and Intimidation – Part 1

In May 2010, the Southern District of New York (SDNY) ordered the release of outtakes from the movie Crude after Chevron demonstrated that the raw footage compiled by the filmmaker would be “unimpeachably objective” evidence of any misconduct on the part of plaintiffs’ lawyers, expert witnesses, or the government of Ecuador.

In the more than 500 hours of outtakes from the movie Crude produced, the plaintiffs’ lawyers and representatives were caught, amongst other things, planning to organize an “army” to pressure, intimidate, and humiliate Judges in Ecuador.  Plaintiffs’ representatives even go as far as to discuss the possibility of a judge being killed if he ruled in favor of Texaco.

On November 10, 2010, after reviewing the Crude outtakes, the SDNY issued an opinion granting discovery and deposition of Steven Donziger, the lead American trial lawyer behind the Ecuador lawsuit.  In the opinion, the presiding judge stated, “The [Crude] outtakes are even more disturbing. They contain statements by Donziger that the Ecuadorian court system is corrupt, that the Lago Agrio plaintiffs can prevail only by pressuring and intimidating the courts and that the facts have to be twisted to support the plaintiffs’ theories. Donziger’s own words raise substantial questions as to his possible criminal liability and amenability to professional discipline. Among his other statements in the outtakes are these:”


“They’re all [i.e., the Ecuadorian judges] corrupt! It’s – it’s their birthright to be corrupt.”


“The only language that I believe this judge is going to understand is one of pressure, intimidation and humiliation. And that’s what we’re doing today. We’re going to let him know what time it is. . . . As a lawyer, I never do this. You don’t have to do this in the United States. It’s dirty. . . . It’s necessary. I’m not letting them get away with this stuff.”

“At the end of the day, this is all for the Court, just a bunch of smoke and mirrors and bull*hit.”

This is the first in a series of posts this week that will highlight the degree to which the trial in Ecuador has been compromised by the misconduct of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.  These concerns are real and are conveyed in the words of a U.S. Magistrate Judge in New Mexico who found:

“The release of many hours of the outtakes has sent shockwaves through the nation’s legal communities, primarily because the footage shows, with unflattering frankness, inappropriate, unethical and perhaps illegal conduct.”

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