Friday, February 20, 2009

Soak the Poor!

After winning a lawsuit seeking to hold it responsible for the shooting deaths of several Nigerian villagers, Chevron is firing back with a request for legal reimbursement:
Chevron Corp., which prevailed in a human-rights lawsuit seeking to hold it responsible for the shooting of Nigerian protesters at an oil platform, is seeking nearly $500,000 in legal costs from the villagers who brought the suit.

Chevron's claim for reimbursement, filed in federal court, includes $190,000 in copying charges. The San Ramon-based company, which posted a record $23.8-billion profit for 2008, says it is entitled to the money because a nine-member jury decided in the company’s favor in December.

Loser pays is not an uncommon legal principle. But here it is rather clearly extortionary. Not only is the sum of money being asked for here entirely out of reach for the plaintiff-class, but the tenor of the entire proceeding (as one of the plaintiff's attorneys put it) is that the request is "punitive" and a "shot across the bow" for other potential plaintiffs who might be inclined to bring similar human rights actions against large corporations. If the risk of trying to vindicate legal rights is bankruptcy, legal rights are worthless. Chevron, it seems, views this as a good thing.

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