There’s a new wrinkle in the ongoing fight between Chevron and “Crude” director Joe Berlinger — one that may spark a fresh legal battle.
Chevron says that the hundreds of hours of film that Berlinger turned over to the company in compliance with a court order show numerous instances of fraud by lawyers representing Ecuadorean natives in a $27 billion lawsuit against the oil titan.
Now Chevron is seeking to expand the scope of the materials it wants subpoenaed from Berlinger and his film crew.
In a U.S. Federal Court filing on Wednesday, Chevron’s lawyer Randy Mastro wrote that the company also wants to depose Berlinger about what happened after his cameras were turned off, allegedly at the behest of the plaintiffs’ attorney Steven Donzige
It also wants Berlinger to produce two tapes he claims he misplaced, as well as correspondence with Donziger.
“The evidence submitted shows beyond any doubt that there is no basis for an award of damages against Chevron, much less the fraudulent $27 billion assessment pending before the court in Ecuador,” Kent Robertson, a spokesperson for Chevron, told TheWrap.
“Crude," is a 2009 documentary centering on an environmental lawsuit filed by members of five indigenous tribes over oil and toxic waste contamination left over from when Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001, operated oil fields in Ecuador.
Last month, the documentary filmmaker and Chevron’s months-long standoff seemed to reach a resolution. Berlinger had been evoking journalistic privilege in order to keep from surrendering the full 600 hours of unused footage that Chevron has subpoenaed.
In what the filmmaker hailed as a “limited victory,” the director agreed to comply with a federal court decision that put restrictions on the outtakes he would have to hand over to the oil company.
Chevron says it has not finished reviewing all of the 421 tapes of unreleased footage from “Crude,” but said that the outtakes show the Indians’ legal team colluding with a supposedly neutral court expert, Richard Cabrera. In the film, Chevron’s lawyers say Donziger leads a PowerPoint presentation and strategy session for an audience that includes Cabrera. The company says that at a certain point Donziger asks Berlinger to turn off his cameras, so a meeting can take place privately.
Berlinger said his lawyers are preparing a legal challenge to Chevron’s requests and disputed their findings.
“The footage is being taken out of context and not being presented to the court in its entirety creating a false impression, precisely what we feared when we were first issued the original subpoena,” Berlinger told TheWrap.
Donziger did not respond to requests for comment.
Ilann Maazel, who also represents the plaintiffs, told TheWrap: “This is another desperate diversion from an overwhelming case of Chevron’s guilt. Rather than attack the evidence, they attack the lawyers. It’s a cynical litigation strategy.”