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December 5, 2008 9:30 AM

Litigator of the Week: Robert Mittelstaedt of Jones Day

Posted by Ed Shanahan

From The Am Law Litigation Daily

In the pretrial phase of the landmark Alien Tort Claims Act case that Nigerian plaintiffs brought against Chevron, the oil company's lawyer, Jones Day partner Robert Mittelstaedt, was dealt a tough blow. San Francisco federal district court judge Susan Illston found that the plaintiffs had presented evidence showing Chevron Nigeria Ltd. had aided and abetted military attacks against Nigerian civilians on an oil platform in the late nineties. Illston ordered the case to proceed. "[Plaintiffs] present evidence that CNL personnel were directly involved in the attacks; CNL transported the [government security forces]; and CNL knew that the [government security forces] were prone to excessive force," Judge Illston wrote in an August 2007 ruling. "These facts, among other, are sufficient to raise a triable issue to whether CNL knew that the [government security forces] planned to attack, and whether CNL agreed that the [government security forces] should commit the attacks."

So the case headed to trial--and to Chevron's exoneration. On Monday, following a four-week trial and two days of deliberation, jurors found Chevron not liable for the deaths and injuries of the Nigerian civilians. In what was considered a crucial test of the Alien Tort Claims Act, the Jones Day lawyer halted a movement to hold U.S.-based businesses responsible for overseas tragedies.

"The decision to shoot in self-defense was made by military," Mittelstaedt told the jury during his closing argument, according to Bloomberg. "Not only did we not think anything wrong would happen, we certainly didn't intend for anything to happen."

The verdict has generated plenty of chatter in cyberspace. Conservative columnist Walter Olson called it "a stinging rebuke to a small army of progressive American academics, journalists, foundation grantmakers, and others who've promoted the case for years." FindLaw columnist Anthony Seabok, meanwhile, cast doubt on the significance of the outcome.

According to Dan Levine of The Recorder, our Litigator of the Week kept his poker face on in the courtroom when the verdict was announced, but once outside, cracked a smile. Considering the stakes, it was an understandable show of emotion.

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