Ninth Circuit Disciplines Lawyers Who Tried to Enforce Nicaraguan Pesticide Exposure Judgment in U.S. Courts
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has imposed a suspension, a formal reprimand and fines on several attorneys who attempted to enforce in U.S. courts a $489 million default judgment entered by a Nicaraguan court against a business entity that did not exist for allegedly exposing hundreds of banana plantation workers to pesticides. In re: Thomas V. Girardi, Esq., Nos. 08-80090, 03-57038 (9th Cir., decided July 13, 2010). The litigation in Nicaragua had been filed against “Dole Food Corporation” and “Shell Oil Company,” but should instead have named “Dole Food Company” and “Shell Chemical Company.”
According to the court, “In a high-stakes gamble to enforce a foreign Judgment of nearly a half billion dollars, Respondents initiated and directed years of litigation against Defendants. Respondents efforts went beyond the use of ‘questionable tactics’—they crossed the line to include the persistent use of known falsehoods.” Those falsehoods included that (i) “Dole Food Company was named as a judgment debtor by a Nicaraguan court”; (ii) “the Nicaraguan court corrected any mistakes it might have made regarding Dole Food Company in its judgment by the Writ of Execution”; and (iii) “Respondents had submitted the corrected Writ of Execution to the state court and the federal district court.”
The court reportedly suspended Walter Lack from practicing before the Ninth Circuit for six months and reprimanded Thomas Girardi. Fees and costs of nearly $400,000 were also imposed against the lawyers and their law firms. See New York Lawyer, July 14, 2010.
In a related development, a federal court has reportedly reversed a $2.3 million verdict against Dole Food Co. in a case alleging that the use of pesticides on its Nicaraguan plantations caused the sterilization of six plantation workers. The court had heard testimony that the verdict was a product of fraud and apparently concluded that the company and court were the victims of a massive fraud that included testimony offered by the plaintiffs from workers who had never worked on the plantations and others who fathered children after their alleged exposure made them sterile. See The Kansas City Star, July 7 and 15, 2010.