Every now and then some piece of PR in the Lago Agrio case strikes me as particularly sleazy. I read it and I feel like taking a shower. I could point to examples from both sides of the case. But this week, the winner is a press release from Hinton Communications about the amicus brief recently filed in the Second Circuit by Legal Momentum, formerly the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund.
It takes a lot of chutzpah to accuse Legal Momentum of corruption, but there it is:
The legal arm of the National Organization for Woman (“NOW”) is under attack from rainforest indigenous villagers and their allies for accepting a large donation from Chevron and then filing a legal brief in favor of the oil company in its campaign to evade an Ecuador court judgment ordering it to clean up extensive oil contamination in the Amazon.
The NOW legal group never disclosed its financial ties to Chevron in the “friend of the court” brief filed recently before the United States Court of Appeals in New York, raising ethical concerns and infuriating women in Ecuador who have battled for two decades to hold Chevron accountable for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste onto their ancestral lands.
“This is a very disturbing example of how NOW’s legal advocates are both deceiving courts and openly betraying the women of Ecuador who have suffered hugely at the hands of Chevron,” said Mariana Jimenez, a resident of Lago Agrio, a small town in the rainforest that served as the headquarters of Chevron’s operations in the country from 1964 to 1992.
The implication is that Chevron bought the amicus brief with its charitable donation. Really? What’s the evidence? Well, there is none, in the press release at least. But it wouldn’t be surprising if someone on Chevron’s side made Legal Momentum aware of the case and asked if it would be interested in submitting an amicus brief. Aha! Corruption! Well, no. Legal Momentum isn’t pretending to be disinterested, nor is disinterestedness required of amici curiae. Legal Momentum has a clear interest in the outcome of the RICO jurisdictional issue, and it’s no secret. It’s set out in the brief:
Legal Momentum was an early and successful advocate for the use of injunctive relief under RICO, beginning in the 1980s. In response to waves of violent anti-abortion harassment around reproductive healthcare facilities, Legal Momentum filed suit in multiple jurisdictions to obtain RICO-based injunctions against defendants who systematically and repeatedly violated women’s constitutional rights using nakedly criminal tactics. In
National Organization for Women, Inc. v. Scheidler, Legal Momentum won such an order from the district court to restrain the commission of violent crimes by Joseph Scheidler, the Pro-Life Action League, and others, and successfully defended that ruling in the Seventh Circuit. See Nat’l Org. For Women, Inc. v. Scheidler, 267 F.3d 687 (7th Cir. 2001), rev’d on other grounds, 537 U.S. 393 (2003). Scheidler and cases that have followed it are correct.
Legal Momentum’s sole interest in this litigation is to preserve these rulings.
The Hinton Communications press release is an example of the tendency of both sides in this case to demonize everyone who has anything to do with the other side. I’m not a PR person, but I can’t imagine that a piece like this does anything at all to persuade people not already committed to supporting Steven Donziger. To the contrary—I think open-minded and thoughtful readers must be turned off by this kind of thing.
I’ll be on the lookout for future examples from both sides to add to my wall of shame. The parties, if they want to avoid being featured on the list, are advised to chill.