US: CA Attorney General Refuses to Revoke Unocal's Charter

Lockyer confronts Unocal protesters in sidewalk debate.

Lockyer confronts Unocal protesters in sidewalk debate.
Photo credit: Dang Ngo, 2000.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer plunged into a crowd of 45
protesters on Saturday, debating them on whether he should revoke the
corporate charter of the Unocal Corporation as they demanded. The group
had gathered in front of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles where Lockyer
was scheduled to deliver a speech. It included demonstrators from the
National Lawyers Guild, Alliance for Democracy, Burma Forum and other
organizations that had petitioned the Attorney General to dissolve
Unocal because of its human rights and environmental abuses. The Los
Angeles Police Department mounted a heavy presence as protesters chanted
and held up signs reading Lockyer -- Soft on Corporate Crime. When
Lockyers car drove up, he startled the group by wading into them
shaking hands.

Lockyer told the demonstrators he had no intention of going after Unocal
because his office has no capacity to investigate the foreign human
rights offenses the company is accused of and because he has no client
in the matter -- explaining that he is the attorney for state agency

Ceil Sorenson of the Alliance for Democracy told Lockyer, we are your
clients, the people of the state of California. A new book about the
Unocal case, Challenging Corporate Rule by law professor Robert Benson,
quotes the statute giving the Attorney General power and duty to act
even on complaints by private parties. Benson, who was present at the
sidewalk debate, also told the Attorney General that foreign human
rights abuses are proper issues for his office, as in claims by
Holocaust victims against foreign banks and insurance companies.

When James Lafferty, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild,
attempted to put a question to him about what egregious behavior it
would take before a corporations charter should be yanked, Lockyer grew
impatient, said he was not there to listen to a speech, and stormed off.

Later, in a private talk with law students in the Loyola Environmental
Law Society and Benson, Lockyer continued to disagree about Unocal but
acknowledged that his office has authority to go to court to revoke
corporate charters and opened the possibility that he would consider it
in proper cases in the future. I think he is legally wrong about
Unocal, Benson commented afterward, but I give him a lot of credit for
facing the protesters and for being open to the concept of revoking
corporate charters in general. Unlike our last Attorney General,
Lockyer clearly wants to enforce the laws against corporations on
anti-trust, environmental and other issues. We hope to convince him
that dusting off the long-ignored tool of revoking corporate charters is
his best way to do that. We also need to show him that it doesnt
require too much political courage to do this. After all, both the last
New York State Attorney General who was a conservative Republican and the new one who is a liberal Democrat have been strongly committed to revoking charters of law breaking companies.

AMP Section Name:Energy
  • 116 Human Rights

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