Reuters reports today that a judge is compelling the CEO of Chevron to testify in a years-long court battle over Chevron paying on a $19 billion judgment against Texaco, which it owns, for damage to Ecuadoran rainforest.
Of note is the concern that making the CEO testify might be tantamount to harassing him:
“To be sure, the rancorous history of this litigation lends credibility to Chevron’s concern that the deposition has been noticed for purposes of harassment,” James Francis, a magistrate judge in federal court in Manhattan, wrote in his ruling. “On the other hand, there is little doubt that Mr. Watson has relevant knowledge.”
So while the corporation-as-person may be too big to care, the actual person in actual charge of the corporation is not above being troubled.
This caught my attention because yesterday, the AP ran a story about a judge who is looking for help with ideas for how to punish a Texas natural gas company, Southern Union:
Apparently frustrated by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down an $18 million penalty for a Texas natural gas firm, a federal judge is taking the unusual step of asking the environmental community for suggestions on how to sentence the company in a way that will have “the broadest possible impact.”
The bottom line in the Southern Union case is that the corporation can’t be fined more than $500,000. With a reported profit of $58 million in 2010 before being acquired for $5.5 billion in 2012, and a CEO, George Lindemann, who is a regular on the Forbes 400 Richest Americans list with a reported worth of $2.2 billion, it’s a classic “too big to care” scenario.
“It is not an adequate penalty to punish Southern Union for its conduct, nor will it deter Southern Union or other similarly situated companies from similar actions in the future,” U.S. District Judge William Smith wrote. (pdf)
So he’s asking for ideas on what would make a suitable punishment while also wondering aloud about whether he has the power to force the company’s executives to physically perform the community service. At a December hearing the judge was able to confirm that he has the power to have the company make employees perform community service, but it remains to be seen whether he can specify who within the company should perform that community service. Watch this space.
In the meantime, got any other ideas?