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Machinations in New Jersey Court linking Royal Dutch Shell with ambulance chaser lawyers

By John Donovan

On 19 February 2008, Judge John J. Hughes, a United States Magistrate Judge  signed Court Orders sealing legal papers concerning the payment by Shell of $29 million supposedly in respect of legal costs. The costs arose from a mini-trial relating to the Shell hydrocarbon reserves fraud.  The relevant Orders were filed with the United States District Court of New Jersey on 20 February 2008.

The Order was sought and obtained by Liaison Counsel Keefe Bartels – New Jersey based “Personal Injury Lawyers”- a type of law firm known as “ambulance chasers”; “a derogatory phrase sometimes used to describe a trial lawyer who specializes in representing accident victims” (definition borrowed from Wikipedia).

Perhaps it was useful to have such a law firm carrying out the liaison function.

Paying the $27 million legal costs to U.S. lawyers allows Shell to proceed with its cunningly executed plans to settle with Non-U.S. purchasers of Shell shares for $352.6 million, plus $47 million in legal fees, subject to approval by the Amsterdam Court of Appeals in The Netherlands.

The Orders mean that the negotiations involving lawyers acting for Shell, the plaintiffs and liaison Counsel which led to the $27 million payment in the USA are hidden from Shell shareholders. This is in line with Shell’s policy of keeping stock holders in the dark in relation to sensitive matters potentially damaging to Shell executives and particularly in relation to issues concerning Shell’s reserves. 

The Orders also apparently seal/conseal the discussions/documents relating to the Motion to Seal.

Someone certainly wanted to keep such matters secret. How that policy equates with Shell’s claimed core principle of “transparency” in all of Shell’s dealings under the SGBP  is beyond me.


DOC: 478: ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO SEAL: Filed 20 February 2008

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