Oil industry giant Exxon Mobil is launching a wide-ranging legal attack against its litigatory opponents, hitting attorneys and public officials across the country with retaliatory suits and demands.
According to Bloomberg, the company has targeted at least 30 individuals and organizations. Among them are New York and Massachusetts attorneys general Eric Schneiderman and Maura T. Healey, respectively.
Exxon Mobil is accusing the two prominent attorneys general of collusion with environmental groups and public officials, claiming an elaborate plot has been launched against Big Energy.
Calling the conspiracy and its entailments “The La Jolla Playbook,” Exxon’s attorneys say about two dozen people ‘hatched a strategy against it at a meeting six years ago at an oceanfront cottage” in California.
Purported participants in the plot are being served suits, threatened with litigation and demands for sworn depositions.
“It’s an aggressive move,” said litigation expert and Fordham University School of Law professor Howard Erichson. “Does Exxon really need these depositions or is Exxon seeking the depositions to harass mayors and city officials into dropping their lawsuits?”
Bloomberg says the unusually combative role adopted by Exxon Mobil shows the stakes are high for oil companies, which were sued by New York City, several California counties, and San Francisco and Oakland. The plaintiffs allege that corporations like Exxon Mobil deliberately denied the findings of climate-change scientists, despite knowing their business presents a ‘grave risk’ to Earth.
Covered by LegalReader in March of 2017, attorneys general Schneiderman and Healey are leading an investigation into Exxon Mobil. At issue is whether executives intentionally covered up information on global warming, thus ‘defrauding shareholders and consumers.’
Since the suit began, Exxon’s own attorneys have pushed back, claiming they’re being punished for not adhering to a politically correct line on climate change.
“The attorneys general have violated Exxon Mobil’s right to participate in the national conversation about how to address the risks presented by climate change,” said Exxon Mobil lawyer Dan Toal. “That is the speech at issue here – not some straw man argument about whether climate change is real.”
But the plaintiffs, recounts Bloomberg, contend that Exxon Mobil’s recently-launched offensive shows they’re trying to shift scrutiny away from themselves. On top of that, some wondered what grounds the oil giant has for issuing subpoenas for lawyers who simply got together to discuss legal strategies.
“It’s crazy that people are subpoenaed for attending a meeting,” said Sharon Eubanks, a lawyer who’d attended the La Jolla conference. “It’s sort of like a big scare tactic: reframe the debate, use it as a diversionary tactic and scare the heck out of everybody.”
Erichson seemed to agree, telling Bloomberg that such gatherings are common for collaborating litigants going up against powerful industries.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with plaintiffs’ lawyers and attorneys general strategizing together,” he said, “just as I don’t think there’s anything wrong with lawyers for oil companies strategizing together.”