First Amendment

Fed'l Judge Subpoenas Raw Footage from 'Crude' Documentary About Chevron Suit


Saying that the filmmaker had not met his burden of establishing that some 600 hours of raw footage from the documentary Crude is confidential and hence arguably protected by an investigative reporting privilege, a federal judge in Manhattan has okayed a subpoena requiring director Joe Berlinger to turn over the video to Chevron.

Lawyers for Berlinger expect to ask for a stay of the ruling until they have a chance to appeal it to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, reports the Arts Beat blog of the New York Times.

Attorney Maura Wogan, who represents Berlinger, says the ruling by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan allows a private litigant to conduct a fishing expedition through an independent filmmaker’s work in violation of core First Amendment principles. “The decision really threatens grave harm to documentary filmmakers and investigative reporters,” she tells the Times blog. “It’s compelling the production of an extraordinary amount of footage.”

Detailing this concern, she tells Reuters that she is unaware of another decision in the 2nd Circuit that requires the turnover of so much material. “Usually, where the courts ordered outtakes, they focused on a particular scene or a particular interview, not all of its raw footage.”

Attorney Randy Mastro, who represents Chevron, says the material will be critical in helping his client show that it has been denied fair treatment in the Ecuadorian litigation that is the subject of the film, the Times blog reports.

The government of Ecuador has denied wrongdoing, recounts Dow Jones Newswires.

“The court expresses no view as to whether the concerns of either side are supported by proof of improper political influence, corruption or other misconduct affecting the Ecuadorian proceedings,” says Kaplan in his ruling today. “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.”

The film chronicles a suit against Texaco, which is now owned by Chevron, alleging that a Lago Agrio oil field operation in the Amazon rainforest contaminated the plaintiffs’ water. Chevron, which is seeking dismissal of the litigation, says it has been denied due process.

Related earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Parties in $27B Environmental Case Fight Video With Video”

ABAJournal.com: “Chevron Sues Plaintiffs Lawyer for $4M, Alleges Malicious Prosecution”

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