NYC Judge to 'Crude' Filmmaker: Hand Over Footage
Associated Press / AP Online
May 07, 2010
NEW YORK — A federal judge ordered a documentary filmmaker Thursday to turn over about 600 hours of raw footage from a film about a court fight over whether Chevron Corp. owes billions of dollars in damages for oil contamination in Ecuador.
U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan said filmmaker Joe Berlinger must turn over the outtakes from the film “Crude,” which was released last year, to lawyers for Chevron.
Kaplan said Berlinger could not use the First Amendment to shield himself from Chevron’s effort to get the raw footage because Berlinger had not demonstrated he was entitled to a journalist’s privilege of confidentiality.
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The judge noted that a lawyer for 30,000 inhabitants of the Lago Agrio region of Ecuador who are considered victims of environmental damage solicited Berlinger to create a documentary of the progression of a lawsuit through the courts in Ecuador from the perspective of his clients.
The lawsuit in Ecuador’s courts is the continuation of a 17-year-old legal battle in which Ecuadoreans claim Texaco Inc. contaminated their land during three decades of oil exploration and extraction there. Texaco became a wholly owned subsidiary of Chevron in 2001.
Kaplan said the plaintiffs’ lawyers were on the screen through most of the documentary, which contains less than 1 percent of the total footage shot by Berlinger. The judge also noted Berlinger has conceded he removed at least one scene from the film at the lawyers’ direction.
The judge said he was expressing no view as to whether the concerns of either side were supported by proof of improper political influence, corruption or other misconduct affecting the Ecuadorean proceedings.
“Review of Berlinger’s outtakes will contribute to the goal of seeing not only that justice is done, but that it appears to be done,” he wrote.
Maura Wogan, a lawyer for Berlinger, said Berlinger will ask Kaplan to delay the effect of his order so he has time to appeal to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan.
The ruling threatens “great harm to documentary filmmakers and investigative reporters everywhere,” she said.
“We’re frankly surprised at the court’s total lack of sensitivity to the journalists’ privilege,” Wogan said.
Wogan said the ruling will let Chevron conduct a “fishing expedition” for evidence. It also could lead to the opening up of notes of any reporter who covers litigation to the scrutiny of lawyers in a case, she said.
Chevron lawyer Randy Mastro called the raw footage a “treasure trove” and said it will expose “corruption and fraud and a travesty of justice going on right now in Ecuador.”
He said it was not a case about the First Amendment.