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Climate Campaigners Raise Flags Over Press Freedom Award for Chevron Lawyer

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Anti-fossil campaigners are crying foul after the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) chose to honour Chevron lead attorney Ted Boutrous for his work to protect First Amendment freedoms.

In what it calls a complicated story, Climate Liability News acknowledges [1] that Boutrous “worked to defend media organizations and reporters in a wide variety of First Amendment issues, including representing CNN journalists Jim Acosta and Brian Karem when the White House attempted to restrict their access.” He has also represented the RCFP in its attempts to unseal records related to the Robert Mueller collusion probe, and has stated that “he will defend anyone President Trump sues for speaking freely”.

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But Boutrous and his firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, have also worked “for years” to defend Chevron, CLN says, “perhaps most notably in its efforts to avoid responsibility for contamination of a Rhode Island-sized swath of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador.”

Drexel University environmental sociologist Robert Brulle expressed dismay at the award, calling Boutrous Big Oil’s “lead guy” in the fight to avoid repercussions for their “corporate frauds and their liability sins”. Climate Liability News notes that Chevron and other fossils are facing suits filed by more than a dozen U.S. municipalities, alleging that “they knowingly sold and promoted products that damaged the climate and engaged in a sophisticated campaign of deception to downplay the risk and discredit the science.”

Recently-released emails between Gibson Dunn and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have also “raised questions about Chevron’s close relationship to the Trump administration,” the story notes. The emails, cited [3] in a report by InsideClimate News, show support from the U.S. government for the oil companies named in the suits. 

What’s also troubling are charges that Boutrous and his fellow lawyers at Gibson Dunn actively manufactured evidence that allowed Chevron to file civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges against attorney Steven Donziger and other advocates for the plaintiffs in the Ecuador case, after an Ecuadorian court ordered Chevron “to pay US$19 billion to Ecuadorian residents, including five Amazonian tribes.” (An appeal court later reduced the settlement to $9.5 billion.) Donziger and his associates strenuously deny Chevron’s accusations of fraud. 

“Boutrous in my opinion is a key mastermind of probably the greatest SLAPP [strategic lawsuits against public participation] harassment case in history,” said Donziger. The case was “designed to silence lawyers and Indigenous peoples trying to hold his client Chevron accountable for extensive pollution,” added the attorney, who has been under house arrest in New York since last year.

“I cannot imagine anyone less deserving of a First Amendment award than Ted Boutrous,” Donziger said.