Lawyers in the Rain Forest
How a dubious judgment against Chevron exposed the abuses of the plaintiffs’ bar
Many in the plaintiffs’ bar see themselves as modern-day gunslingers; their advocacy on behalf of the “injured” and “downtrodden” allows them to justify their extraordinary winnings. Further, with litigation often serving as a proxy for class warfare, plaintiffs’ lawyers regard suing deep-pocket defendants as a moral crusade. In their pursuit of corporate malefactors (and gargantuan contingent-fee recoveries), plaintiff’s attorneys often sacrifice ethics to the imperative of victory. Examples abound of trial lawyers who, seemingly at the top of their game, succumbed to venality and greed. As the monetary stakes rise, so does the temptation to cheat.
The widely publicized dispute between Chevron and trial lawyer Steven Donziger, played out in New York federal court in 2013 and chronicled in two recent books—Paul Barrett’s Law of the Jungle and Michael Goldhaber’s Crude Awakening—illustrates the extent of the corruption. The Chevron-Donziger saga has a Hollywood feel, but it turns the typical John Grisham plot line on its head: here, a corporate titan vindicates itself against a sleazy plaintiffs’ lawyer who masquerades as an idealistic environmental activist representing Ecuadoran peasants.
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