08/16/2006

Court Sanctions Defiant Forestry Company

A federal judge in New Orleans sanctioned a forestry company after finding it exploited the judicial process by continually flouting court orders to turn over information to Center attorneys.

With a goal of reforming the abusive employment practices rampant in the nation's forestry industry, the Center's Immigrant Justice Project (IJP) filed a class action against the company, Express Forestry Inc., in April 2005. Three others companies also were sued.

Express Forestry consistently resisted requests for documents necessary to prosecute the lawsuit, even after the court granted the Center's motions compelling it to do so.

"Whether the product of intentional deceit or contumacious refusal to seriously comply with their discovery obligations, the havoc wreaked with respect to trial preparations is the same," the Aug. 11 court order says. "There is little question but that defendants' subterfuge is sanctionable."

The lawsuit, Hugo Martin Recinos-Recinos, et al. v. Express Forestry Inc., et al., was brought on behalf of indigent workers from Guatemala and Mexico who left their homes and families to plant pine trees in the U.S. under a temporary foreign worker visa program. Routinely underpaid, they do backbreaking labor in jobs the forestry contractors certify American workers are unwilling to perform.

"To date, trial preparation has been accomplished only through plaintiffs' [lawyers'] Herculean efforts bolstered by staccato motions to compel and a corresponding series of orders compelling production of responsive documents and/or information," the court said.

The court ordered Express Forestry to pay $36,391.24 to the Center for costs and fees incurred while attempting to get information that was in the company's possession and readily available.

The same court in January issued a protective order against Express Forestry after its agents began a campaign of threats, intimidation and coercion targeting the Center's Guatemalan clients.