May 20, 2010 / 7:13 PM / 7 years ago

U.S. judge delays Chevron subpoena for "Crude" film

NEW YORK, May 20 (Reuters) - A U.S. filmmaker has 10 more days to decide whether to comply with a subpoena ordering that he give Chevron Corp (CVX.N) raw footage of a documentary on the 17-year-old legal fight over oil pollution in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador, a judge ruled on Thursday.

The decision by Manhattan federal court Judge Lewis Kaplan paves the way for "Crude" filmmaker Joe Berlinger and the Ecuadorean plaintiffs to appeal an order by Kaplan on May 6 authorizing the issue of subpoenas. [ID:nN06267807]

Berlinger was to answer his subpoena by Friday to supply the second-largest U.S. oil company with hundreds of hours of film not included in the public release of "Crude" in 2009. The judge extended the deadline to May 31.

Berlinger has neither refused to comply with the subpoena nor been held in contempt for refusing. The film was solicited by Steven Donziger, a U.S. lawyer for Ecuadorean plaintiffs.

It chronicles the litigation and oil production in the Amazon rainforest and how indigenous communities accused Texaco, bought by Chevron in 2001, of damaging their health and the rainforest by causing river pollution.

The original lawsuit was brought in 1993 by farmers and residents, known as the Lago Agrio plaintiffs. The dispute has produced many twists and turns, including allegations of bribery in the Ecuadorean court system.

Chevron, which faces potential liability of $27 billion, says the claim against it is without merit.

Lawyers for Berlinger argued that the judge's order to hand over outtakes undermined the ability of filmmakers and journalists to cultivate sources and be a public watchdog.

In his order on Thursday, Kaplan wrote: "There is no evidence that anyone who appeared in Crude is a confidential source - so far as the record discloses, they all willingly appeared on camera."

He also said that he respects the work of documentary filmmakers in creating public awareness of events, but he was not persuaded "disclosure of these outtakes would impair the ability of Berlinger or other film makers to practice their craft and serve the public interest."

The case is In re Application of Chevron Corporation, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. M-19-111. (Reporting by Grant McCool, editing by Maureen Bavdek)

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