From: Campaign to Stop Killer Coke
For more information, contact Pat Clark or Ray Rogers at (718) 852-2808
For Immediate Release, January 11, 2007
The Florida federal judge whose rulings have repeatedly limited legal options for plaintiffs seeking to hold Coca-Cola accountable for crimes and human rights violations in Colombia is entangled in a web of questionable ties to the world's largest beverage company, the Campaign to Stop Killer Cokehas recently discovered.
U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez, elevated to the bench by President Bush in November 2002, is a proud and active alumnus of the University of Miami (UM) and its law school. He is "best known for his sideline: color commentator on Spanish radio for Los Huracanes," referring to the UM football and baseball teams, according to the Miami Herald (11/23/02).
Coca-Cola directly subsidizes UM athletic programs under the terms of an exclusive beverage contract with the school, in effect since at least the 2003 football season. Judge Martinez's role as a radio sports analyst, which continued through the just-ended football season, was described on UM's Athletic Dept. website, sponsored by Coca-Cola.
Judge Martinez has also "been active in UM matters, serving as?a member of the Governing Board of the UM Hurricane Club," according to the biographical note supplied for an Oct. 30, 2006 luncheon at which he was the keynote speaker. UM identifies the Hurricane Club as "the primary fundraising arm of the athletic department," and a major share of the money it has collected before and since Martinez became a judge came from Coca-Cola.
In 2003, Judge Martinez initially dismissed The Coca-Cola Company from lawsuits brought by the International Labor Rights Fund and the United Steelworkers, AFL-CIO, that documented collaboration between Coke's Colombian bottlers and paramilitary terrorists bent on destroying SINALTRAINAL, the major union representing Coca-Cola workers.
His dismissal of The Coca-Cola Company, headquartered in Atlanta, from the 2001 lawsuits was based on the notion that Coke didn't have sufficient ownership or control of its bottlers to bear any responsibility for such crimes as the killing of 28-year-old union leader Isidro Gil at his workplace.
Last September 29 — after almost four years of inaction that underscored how justice delayed is really justice denied — Martinez ruled that Coke's bottlers in Colombia weren't liable either, despite the fact that many Colombian Coke workers have been tortured, kidnapped and/or illegally detained by paramilitaries who often work closely with Coke's plant managers. All of Martinez's rulings are being appealed.
Martinez's 2003 decision was made prior to any discovery, meaning that the plaintiffs had no chance to show the degree to which Coca-Cola controls foreign operations. The decision was also based on a single document: a sample bottlers' agreement that Coke admitted wasn't the actual agreement with the bottlers cited in the lawsuits.
Martinez also failed to take into account documents admittedly created by The Coca-Cola Company that described its control over workplace practices and its right to inspect plants to insure that local managers abide by human rights conventions and obey domestic laws.
Coca-Cola FEMSA is Coke's largest Latin American bottler and a defendant in the lawsuits. FEMSA's website lists The Coca-Cola Company as owning either 31.6% or 39.6% of its capital stock (both figures are used) and 46.4% of its capital voting stock. Many of Coca-Cola's top executives serve on Coca-Cola FEMSA's board of directors.
As Forbes magazine noted in an article entitled "Coke's Sinful World" (12/22/03), "The biggest bottlers aren't subsidiaries of Coke, nor are they completely independent. Coke effectively controls them by maintaining big equity stakes and a heavy presence on their boards, and by providing their main source of business. Yet it keeps its stakes in the bottlers below 50% thereby avoiding getting hit with their piles of debt and any unpleasant liabilities."
The judge's predisposition in favor of corporate interests came up during his brief confirmation hearing in 2002, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) pointed out that he "specialized in product liability litigation? advising and defending large corporations."
Martinez was a name partner in the law firm of Martinez & Gutierrez from 1991 to 2002. After his appointment to the bench, the firm was renamed Gutierrez & Associates, but it retained a web address (MartLaw.com) that seems to reflect Martinez's continuing link to the firm and the many large corporations it represents. Martinez himself represented the Tobacco Institute in a January 2000 case before the Supreme Court.
The website of Gutierrez & Associates lists among its associated law firms a Bogota, Colombia firm, Gamboa, Chelela, Gamboa & Useche. That firm's website, in turn, identifies as a name partner Carlos Alberto Useche-Ponce de Leon, a former vice president of Coca-Cola de Colombia, S.A., who also serves as an "Advisor" to the Council of American Companies.
"Everything we have learned about Judge Martinez's connections to the interests of the University of Miami, its Coke-subsidized athletic department, Coca-Cola, and his former law firm suggests at least the appearance of impropriety, if not actual bias," said Ray Rogers, director of the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke. "To preserve the integrity of the judicial process, we believe he must be recused from the Coca-Cola cases."
We are seeking your help to stop a gruesome cycle of murders, kidnappings, and torture of union leaders and organizers involved in daily life-and-death struggles at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia, South America.
"If we lose the fight against Coca-Cola, we will first lose our union, next our jobs and then our lives." SINALTRAINAL VIce President Juan Carlos Galvis
"We believe the evidence shows that Coca-Cola and its corporate network are rife with immorality, corruption and complicity in murder."
Campaign to Stop Killer Coke/Corporate Campaign, Inc. Director Ray Rogers