Activist Faces Charges in Chevron Meeting Outburst
As the nation's second-largest oil company, Chevron Corp. is accustomed to activists at its annual shareholder meetings. But Chevron is working with authorities prosecuting a shareholder activist who harangued executives at its annual meeting in May. Antonia Juhasz was removed from the meeting and arrested outside after blasting Chevron's environmental record and starting a derisive chant, according to people at the meeting.
The meeting wrapped up shortly afterward. Ms. Juhasz has been charged with criminal trespass and disrupting a meeting or procession, and faces up to six months in jail. She said the charges are an overreaction and her attorney said they will fight them. Ms. Juhasz's case may result in an odd instance of an activist shareholder not simply being removed from an annual meeting, but being arrested and prosecuted. It raises questions about the best way for companies to deal with activists who use small amounts of stock to gain access to annual meetings to make a public statement.
Ms. Juhasz owns 14 shares in Chevron, which she said were donated. "This is very, very unusual," said Sanjai Bhagat, a business professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, when asked if he had heard of an activist shareholder facing jail time for action at a corporate event. Chevron spokesman Morgan Crinklaw said Ms. Juhasz's "actions clearly show that she was not interested in what the company had to say, only making a disturbance." He said the company is "cooperating fully with the [Harris County, Texas] district attorney's office as they move forward in their prosecution."
Ms. Juhasz, who runs the energy program at San Francisco-based advocacy group Global Exchange, deferred questions about the shareholder meeting to her attorney, John Parras. Mr. Parras said he will argue that Ms. Juhasz didn't disrupt the meeting, and that it could have continued after her turn at the microphone during a question-and-answer period. "The larger question is, can shareholders within a corporation use the process to make the corporation better or more responsive to their concerns," he said. The incident has led to the hobbling of one of the oil company's most vocal critics. Ms. Juhasz said she now must limit what she says publicly about the company for fear of hindering her defense. A preliminary court date has been scheduled for Thursday.
Chevron held its 2010 annual meeting far from its San Francisco Bay Area headquarters. It came at a tense time for the oil giant. The BP PLC oil spill had begun about a month earlier in the Gulf of Mexico, drawing greater scrutiny of the industry; meanwhile, a high-profile lawsuit was proceeding against Chevron in Ecuador, alleging the company was responsible for massive environmental damage. Chevron has denied the charges. Write to John Letzing at firstname.lastname@example.org