A new documentary called "Bananas!" follows a crusading lawyer as he represents Nicaraguan banana plantation workers who say they were made sterile by a pesticide that Dole Food Co. Inc. used on its farms.

But there's one problem with the movie, which is to make its world premiere this month at the Los Angeles Film Festival: A judge found that the supposedly heroic lawyer actually took part in a massive fraud against Dole, the Westlake Village food giant. The judge said the supposed victims weren't sterile and had never even worked on Dole's banana farms.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney ruled in late April that the attorney who serves as the centerpiece of the documentary, Los Angeles sole practitioner Juan Dominguez, was involved in a "blatant extortion" of Dole.

"We wrote the filmmaker and said, 'You may not have known this when making the documentary, and we understand,'" said Scott Edelman, a partner at downtown L.A. firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP who represented Dole in the case. "But you really need to rewrite your movie to reflect the facts."

The "Bananas!" documentary by Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten is to be shown for the first time June 20 in Westwood.

Gertten, who was traveling, initially said he would answer questions via e-mail. But when he saw the questions, he declined to answer them.

A Web site that promotes the film acknowledges that the judge ruled that Dominguez committed fraud in the case. The site describes the film as a "suspenseful, layer-peeling, non-fiction chronicle on the global politics of food and first vs. third world dynamics." The site states that Dominguez is "making history with his cases."

Dominguez is best known in Los Angeles as a personal injury lawyer whose "Accidentes" ads adorn the back of the city's commuter buses.

In the film, Gertten follows Dominguez to Nicaragua. According to the film's trailer and Web site, the documentary depicts how the attorney signs up more than 10,000 Nicaraguan men who were allegedly harmed by exposure to the pesticide.

After the footage was shot, the judge ruled in favor of Dole's argument that some of the men he signed up had never worked on farms and weren't sterile.

In a statement to the Business Journal, Dominguez denied any wrongdoing but wouldn't comment further, citing a gag order. Dole attorneys said there was no such order.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.

Prev