One of the central players in the multi-billion-dollar litigation shakedown against Chevron for supposed environmental damage in Ecuador is Stratus Consulting. When New York attorney Steven Donziger and his team of trial lawyers wanted support for their outrageous environmental claims against the oil company, they turned to the Boulder, Colorado-based firm. But Stratus’ involvement with Donziger and the others behind the Ecuadorian lawsuit has been so close and so suspect that Chevron felt justified in including Stratus in its federal civil racketeering suit.

This story reported today by Greenwire via The New York Times should therefore prompt a serious re-evaluation by the federal government of how it hires contractors in the wake of the Gulf Oil spill. From “Defendant in Racketeering Suit Works as U.S. Consultant on Gulf Spill“:

Boulder, Colo.-based Stratus Consulting, a long-term contractor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other federal agencies, is gathering and analyzing data concerning the Gulf of Mexico spill….

The filing of the racketeering suit raised eyebrows at NOAA, according to a government source familiar with the issue. The agency checked with the Justice Department to make sure it was OK to continue working with Stratus, the source added.

Stratus protests its innocence, as one would expect it to. But the court record — including documents from Steven Donziger himself — belies their protests. Greenwire:

Asked why Stratus believes its contracts with the government should not be affected by the racketeering case, Joe Silvers, an attorney who represents the firm, said it was because Chevron’s allegations “are demonstrably false and its legal maneuverings are a transparent attempt to avoid its environmental responsibilities in Ecuador without, in the least, questioning the science.”

Stratus “never engaged in the misconduct alleged by Chevron, and Chevron knows as much,” Silver added.

Really? One of Chevron’s most powerful accusations is that Stratus Consulting prepared the environmental report by Richard Cabrera, the “independent” expert appointed by an Ecuadorian court to recommend damages against Chevron. Cabrera is the one who eventually came up with the preposterous $27 billion figure — later inflated to $116 billion — seized on by the Donziger-led legal and PR operatives to supposedly prove the seriousness of their charges.

But Stratus wrote Cabrera’s report. That’s right. The U.S.-based consultants paid by the team suing Chevron actually wrote most of the report Cabrera submitted to the Ecuadorian court as his own work.
Who says so? Steven Donziger himself:

[If] Chevron succeeds in obtaining discovery from Stratus and deposing the Stratus principals (which we assume will happen although questions remain about the scope of production), they will find that Stratus wrote the bulk of the report adopted by Cabrera and submitted to the court. Various annexes and an executive summary were provided to local counsel, who provided it to Cabrera, who adopted it. There was significant back and forth collaboration between local counsel and Cabrera, and separately, via local counsel and Stratus. There are also numerous emails between Stratus and local counsel documenting how this work was done, and there are some emails between Stratus and U.S. counsel that show U.S. counsel (relying on guidance of local counsel) approved of this process, encouraged it, and was involved in it from a supervisory perspective. There was also at least one ex parte meeting between Stratus and Cabrera at which U.S. counsel was present. The emails and testimony likely will show some effort to keep the extent of this ex parte collaboration between our local counsel and Cabrera from being disclosed. (The entirety of the emails and production needs to be reviewed and privileges asserted so it is uncertain whether the emails will be disclosed.)

This damning admission, one of many, was made by Donziger in a document he created on April 16, 2010, a memo addressed to “Dear Fellow Counsel.”

Chevron submitted this document, which it had acquired through discovery, to the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York on Tuesday in support of its motion to hold Donziger in contempt. Donziger was ordered by District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan to make relevant documents available to Chevron, but this revealing memo was never turned over — one of 77,800 (!) documents that Chevron’s attorneys say Donziger should have produced but did not. Chevron obtained the thousands of e-mails, memos and other documents only after a forensic expert searched Donziger’s hard drives that the company’s attorneys obtained through a court order. (More on this on Friday.)

Stratus obviously knows all these facts, and we suspect its angry protests to Greenwire rely on carefully worded comments meant to confuse. Greenwire further reports why the consultants’ credibility should be of concern to NOAA.

It is not surprising that the government would want to take a closer look at the issue after the racketeering suit was filed, according to James Rubin, a former DOJ lawyer in the Environment and Natural Resources Division, now in private practice at SNR Denton.

“As a litigator, I, too, would be concerned if the credibility of one of my experts were impugned, even if there were no basis for the claim,” he said. “I would at least want to know more to decide how to respond.”

The credibility of Stratus Consulting has been indeed been impugned, and amazingly so, by Steven Donziger, their trial lawyer partner in the legal, PR and political campaign against Chevron. How can NOAA justify its continued working with Stratus?

Note: Bob McCarty, who blogs at BobMcCartyWrites, had this story about Stratus’ work for the federal government in January in a post, “Company That Earned Millions from Gulf Cleanup Tangled in Suit That Could Cost Chevron $113B.” Bob follows up today, “I Scooped The New York Times by 100 Days!” Congrats, Bob!