Day 17 Part IV Plaintiffs’ Rebuttal & Last Remarks

In Trial Notes on November 26, 2008 at 6:19 pm

Dan Stormer returned to the podium for a half hour to respond to Bob Mittelstaedt’s closing argument for Chevron. At first, I was a bit disappointed with the rebuttal. Following Bob Mittelstaedt’s tightly organized presentation, Stormer seemed to jump willy-nilly from issue to issue. Whereas Stormer’s closing argument had focused on narrative, his rebuttal dove back into the battle for details. So I was disappointed at first.

But on reflection, I think Stormer’s rebuttal may have been more effective than I had thought. His main theme: Did they honestly and directly address the issues before you?

They did nothing but create distractions, he argued. The first thing the defendants did was take a few words from Stormer’s opening argument out of context-the bit about Chevron’s parent/subsidiary relationship being inappropriate. But, he argued, he had stated that it was the defense’s claim of independence between the corporate entities that was inappropriate. And he expanded on this motif:

“They’ve made up a story and covered it with distractions. They sent in people who were notoriously vicious. Then they said it was to drive them [the Ilaje] onto the platform-the same platform that was supposedly so unsafe and unstable that it posed the original security concerns that made them go in there.”

Stormer was getting visibly emotional-not in the mawkish sort of way you might expect in a trial for damages, but in genuine outrage: now he was railing against the cover-up.

Concerning Mittelstaedt’s law enforcement reporting privilege:

“This wasn’t reporting. This was hiring their own private army to go in there and evict people, without any back-up plan other than deadly force.”

Concerning Chevron’s lack of intent to hurt anyone: it’s a red herring, he argued, there’s no mention of intent in the negligence or reckless disregard instructions.

Concerning Mittelstaedt’s claim of ignorance for Chevron USA’s false media statements:

Mittelstaedt: “They didn’t know about payments to the military. How could they know?”

Stormer: “Mike Browne himself had the responsibility to report all payments made to military personnel. They had documented all the payments. They knew.”

Concerning Mittelstaedt’s assertion that the plaintiffs gave no argument of unlawful detention:

“Of course there is. The very basis of this claim is that they were held, they were unlawfully tortured and beaten, on the water, on the land, from the barge to the prison in Akure.”

Throughout the rebuttal, Stormer’s key assertion was this: we know Chevron lied to the media, how can we trust them now? Every claim he challenged, every detail he rebutted returned to this question.

In the end, I think Stormer’s closing argument and rebuttal helped the plaintiffs case a lot, reversing some of the damage inflicted by the past week of testimony from the defense’s witnesses. Will it be enough?

I thought Mittelstaedt’s close–though impeccable–was far less effective than his opening argument, and now that the credibility of Chevron’s witnesses has been questioned, the plaintiffs definitely have a fairer shake at winning. But to do so will require a unanimous verdict. Chevron only needs to convince one juror that this really was sea piracy and that Chevron Nigeria was right to fly in the military. Or that the military was firing in self-defense. Or that Chevron Nigeria was not acing as an agent of Chevron USA and the other parent entities.

As you can guess, there are a number of points on which unanimity will be difficult to achieve. Difficult but not impossible.

After the jurors left to begin their deliberation, there was I thought a moving scene in the court. With the crowded rows all standing at attention and the two legal teams on their feet, Judge Susan Illston descended from the bench. “I want to shake hands with everyone,” she said. “Not the lawyers, but the real people”. And with that she approached the benches where the Ilaje villagers were standing. She shook hands with the Nigerians and she shook hands with the Ilaje interpreter-thanking him for his services-and she shook hands with Chevron’s counsel who had observed the trial for the defendants. It was a very human moment, and a reminder that whatever the verdict and whatever the course of appeal that will inevitably follow, this has been an historic case and a test of bringing global justice into the U.S. justice system.

I’m glad I was able to observe the trial and document it here.

Scott Gilmore

  1. Thanks for the excellent coverage of the trial and the closing arguments. Is there a statute of limitations on time for perjury committed by Chevron witnesses in a civil trial like this? Chevron is notorious for coaching witnesses to lie. It seems like Chevron is very confident that their employees lying under oath will not be brought up on perjury charges. Do you know what the process is for that to happen. Does the judge have to recommend perjury charges to the D.A.?

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