Stories: The La Jolla Tobacconization Playbook

The tobacco industry did not settle with regulators and change their tactics due to evidence, laws or a shift in strategy. The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement came about as they were faced with an overwhelming number of lawsuits that threatened to bankrupt their businesses. At a workshop in La Jolla in 2012, a number of academics, lawyers and NGOs set out to use this strategy to “tobacconize” other industries. This became known as the La Jolla Playbook.

1. Naomi Oreskes and her Hypocritical War on Energy

Part 1 looks at how Naomi Oreskes used her organizations to hold a workshop in La Jolla, CA in 2012, bringing together academics, lawyers and NGOs to try to tobacconize other industries (like fossil fuels). It details how the first cases were implemented with subpoenas and lawsuits against ExxonMobil, holding them liable for the damages from climate change. This story takes a turn when the Firebreak revealed three cases where Oreskes was secretly paid by tort law firms.

2. Glyphosate and the Battle of Good vs Evil

The second part of this series shows how well-coordinated the NGOs, activist scientists and media were in working with US tort law firms to sue Monsanto / Bayer. With more than 100,000 cases, most tort law firms were able to settle with Bayer for more than $11 billion despite no government agency ever concluding that glyphosate was a carcinogen. They pulled this off with a number of Collegium Ramazzini scientists using IARC to produce a widely contested hazard assessment.

3. The Talc Attack

The relentless tort legal attacks on Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products shows how awful the bottom-feeders in the La Jolla Playbook are. With no evidence that talc is carcinogenic, the preacher-style lawyers raise doubt about asbestos. This part looks at how one litigation consultant pretends to still be a professor but uses the one course he teaches to recruit students to do his case research (while he pockets millions testifying as an expert in over 600 cases).

4. Adversarial Regulation

The La Jolla Playbook rewards all of the actors involved in this scam. Tort lawyers are able to profit from large settlements without needing to try cases; NGOs and anti-capitalist academics get to see corporations suffer; and the group of scientists (mostly retired regulatory scientists) extract justice after years of seeing corporations lobby to keep their products on the market. “Adversarial regulation” gets around the democratic regulatory process by using mass tort litigation to change the way companies act (rather than trying to change laws and public policies through the system). Part 4 looks at how these scientists work with institutions like Collegium Ramazzini and IARC to achieve their goals (and help out tort law firms).

5. Sher Edling’s Climate Lawfare Game

Most people assume the courts are a place of justice. In the US tort system, justice is meant to be delivered via monetary compensation (from which the lawyers are paid). But what if the lawyers know they will never win a case (or even get it heard in a court)? What would be the point? The law firm, Sher Edling, is being paid millions of dollars by a group of dark, climate justice foundations to implement the La Jolla Playbook. They are using these funds to take fossil fuel companies to court for the damages from climate change. Part 5 looks at the objectives of spending so much on cases that will never be heard.

6. Anatomy of a Scam

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) published a report claiming that a little-known pesticide, chlormequat, is present in 80% of urine samples and in Quaker Oats products. Two working days later, a New York law firm files a class action suit against Quaker Oats based solely on the EWG report and further unpublished information. Research for this report was funded by The Skyline Foundation which offers dark, donor-advised funding. Should we assume that law firms funded the EWG via this third-party tool to tailor a study to be used for lawsuits?