Monday, May 10, 2010

Chevron wins bid to see Ecuador raw oil film clips

* Oil company claims raw footage shows misconduct

* Filmmaker's lawyer to appeal judge's decision

By Grant McCool
NEW YORK,Chevron Corp (CVX.N) may review 600 hours of raw documentary film footage the company says includes evidence of misconduct by lawyers representing Ecuadoreans in a long-running dispute over oil pollution in the Amazon rain forest, a U.S. judge ruled on Thursday.

The 17-year-old dispute between the second-largest U.S. oil company and the Ecuadoreans who accuse it of polluting the Lago Agrio area has produced many twists and turns, including allegations of bribery in the Ecuador court system.

Maura Wogan, attorney for award-winning filmmaker Joseph Berlinger whose documentary "Crude" was released last year, said the ruling showed a lack of sensitivity to journalist's rights.

"We have not seen a decision in this circuit where an order required so much material," Wogan said of the ruling by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in New York. "Usually, where the courts ordered outtakes, they focused on a particular scene or a particular interview, not all of its raw footage."

Wogan said Berlinger would appeal Thursday's order.

The documentary chronicles the litigation and oil production in the Amazon rainforest. Indigenous communities accused Texaco, bought by Chevron in 2001, of damaging their health and the rain forest in causing river pollution.

The original lawsuit was brought by farmers and residents in 1993. Chevron, which faces potential liability of $27 billion, says the claim against it is without merit.

A Chevron Corp spokesman, Kent Robertson, said the company welcomed Thursday's ruling.

Chevron lawyers presented outtakes from the film at a hearing last week, arguing they bolstered the company's claim a plaintiff's expert report was tainted.

"We certainly believe that there is a lot to be discovered through the process," Robertson said. "We are quite confident that elsewhere in the 600 hours of film that were not made public, there are additional instances of misconduct."

Kaplan's opinion cited a scene included in the documentary film in which the Ecuadorean's lead counsel, U.S. lawyer Steven Donziger, describes his use of pressure tactics on an Ecuadorean judge to block inspection of a laboratory being used by plaintiffs to test for environmental contamination.

Donziger is shown conceding "this is something you would never do in the United States, but Ecuador, you know, this is how the game is played, it's dirty."

The case is In re Application of Chevron Corporation, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. M-19-111. (Reporting by Grant McCool; editing by Andre Grenon)

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