MANHATTAN (CN) - Chevron asked a federal judge Friday to order the release of outtakes from a 2009 documentary shot in Ecuador, saying the footage will exonerate the company in a multibillion trial in Ecuador. To skepticism from the bench, an attorney for the movie makers argued that the outtakes are protected by the First Amendment.
Chevron claims it faces a baseless lawsuit in Ecuador, financed by the U.S. law firm Kohn, Swift and Graf, which is looking for a $27 billion payday for itself and its clients, Ecuadoran nongovernmental organizations. Chevron adds that plaintiffs such as the Amazon Defense Front have been working "hand in glove" with the Ecuadoran government, which hopes to distract from its own role in polluting the Amazon.
"Crude," produced by Third Eye Productions and directed by Joe Berlinger, chronicles oil production in the Amazon rainforest and how it affects forest and the people of Ecuador. It also provides an intimate look at the class-action lawsuit against Chevron in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.
In his opening statement on Friday, Chevron attorney Randy Mastro showed clips from the film to argue that the company has been denied due process in Ecuador.
Ecuador gave Texaco "a complete release" in 2001 in exchange for a $40 million remediation program, and Chevron bought Texaco in 2001, Mastro said.
Chevron claims it is not liable for any environmental damages and "has never done a stitch of business in Ecuador."
Judge Lewis Kaplan listened impassively as Mastro highlighted scenes that he said showed that attorneys representing the plaintiffs in Ecuador engaged in misconduct, "doing things that no attorney would do."
Mastro says the outtakes will show a meeting between an attorney for the prosecution in Ecuador and court-appointed "neutral" expert.
"We're trying to show in Ecuador that the expert report is tainted," Mastro said. "We have the right to show how the process was manipulated by the plaintiffs' counsel working in concert with the government."
After playing a clip of the expert in the same room as the attorney, Mastro said the outtakes would shed more light on what happened in the meeting.
"The plaintiffs' counsel prevailed upon Berlinger to take the scene out of the distributed version of the film," Mastro said.
Judge Kaplan scoffed when an attorney for the respondents argued that the clip was "flimsy," since the expert had yet to be appointed.
"He was just wandering through the rain forest, and he happened to be there," Kaplan snorted. "The impropriety is that he became the court-appointed expert."
Mastro also played a clip in which Steven Donziger, a U.S. lawyer who represents the plaintiffs in Ecuador, meets with Rafael Correa, who was elected president of Ecuador in 2007 and has supported the lawsuit against Chevron.
In another scene, Donziger met with an Ecuadoran judge to torpedo Chevron's petition for an independent expert to look at soil tests submitted to the court.
In the scene, Donziger tells the "Crude" cameraman, "We're going to huddle - meet with the judge - something you'd never do in the U.S. But in Ecuador, this is how the game is played. It's dirty, and you have to use pressure to neutralize Texaco's corruption."
During the meeting, subtitles from "Crude" show that Donziger told the Ecuadoran judge to "be careful with the Texaco lawyers."