LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Philippine island province that experienced mining waste disasters in the 1990s but has been unable to find a court to hear its claim for damages is asking Nevada's highest court to rekindle a nearly 10-year-old state lawsuit against Barrick Gold Corp.
Attorney James McCarthy pleaded with six Nevada Supreme Court justices Tuesday to let the Province of Marinduque sue in Nevada because the Toronto-based mining company has substantial operations in the state.
"We filed here for all the right reasons," McCarthy said. "We chased them here. They fled the Philippines."
McCarthy told the justices Philippine courts ruled that Barrick can't be sued there because it doesn't do business there.
Steve Morris, a Las Vegas lawyer representing Barrick, accused McCarthy of choosing Nevada because he hoped to find a judge amenable to his claim.
"He chose this forum, I believe, because he thought he could persuade the court, just by filing here, by trumpeting these ... evil activities that occurred in the Philippines, that he could persuade the court out of sympathy to say, 'You can try these claims here,'" Morris said.
Barrick wasn't responsible for the Marinduque damage, Morris said. Neither was the company subsidiary, Barrick Goldstrike, that does business in Nevada.
"Is Barrick Goldstrike involved in the Philippines at all?" Justice Michael Cherry asked Morris.
"No," the company lawyer replied. Morris' wife, Nevada Supreme Court Justice Kristina Pickering, removed herself from the appeal and didn't hear Tuesday's oral arguments.
Subtleties of corporate ownership didn't matter to about 10 protesters organized by the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada demonstrating outside the downtown Las Vegas courthouse with a banner reading, "Barrick Kills."
"Barrick must be held accountable for the mining disaster in the Philippines in which children died," PLAN spokeswoman Laura Martin said.
Barrick spokesman Louis Schack in Salt Lake City responded with a statement saying, "PLAN's attempt to tie this case to Barrick's Nevada operations ignores the facts."
The parent company in 2006 acquired an 81 percent stake in Placer Dome Inc., which had ceased operations in Marinduque in 1997 after more than 30 years as a minority partner with a Philippine government company, Marcopper Mining Co.
The pullout was a year after a mine waste pool dam failed, in the second mining waste disaster in three years. The lawsuit alleges the river leading to Marinduque's capital city, Boac, was polluted, and millions of tons of waste laden with arsenic, cadmium, lead, manganese, nickel and sulfate smothered forests, river basins and coral reefs.
The company statement said Placer Dome provided cleanup funds to Marinduque, an island about half the size of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Follow-up studies, including a U.S. Geological Survey assessment in 2004, found no remaining risks to public health or the environment, it said. Marinduque today has some 228,000 residents.
Morris told the court that Clark County District Judge Valerie Adair properly decided in 2010 that Vancouver, British Columbia, or Toronto were better venues for the lawsuit.
"She concluded that Canada has a greater interest in the issue," Morris told the justices, and that Canadian law should apply.
McCarthy pleaded for a hearing in state court and in U.S. federal district and appeals courts before it was routed back to Adair, whose ruling was the basis for the appeal to the Supreme Court.
McCarthy expressed frustration Tuesday at trying to pin down a multinational corporation and said he felt Canadian courts were "stacked against" claims like his that involve foreign places.
"In an international world, we're going to see a lot of cases like this," he said.
Barrick, which bills itself as the world's largest gold producer, operates on five continents. It owns five mines in Nevada and has a 50 percent stake in a sixth. Its Nevada operations produce 2 million to 2.5 million ounces of gold per year, Schack said.
At Tuesday's gold price of $1,263 per ounce, Barrick could reap more than $3 billion a year from Nevada operations at peak production.