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When We Last Visited the Chevron/Ecuador Litigation

Jun 4, 2014

In March, U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan for the Southern District of New York ruled that litigation against Chevron brought by trial lawyer Steven Donziger for purported environmental contamination in Ecuador was fraudulent, a violation of the federal civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. 

Kaplan barred Donziger and his Ecuadorian compatriots -- and the deep-pocket funders who backed the litigation -- from collecting on any damages from a ruling by an Ecuadorian judge that awarded some $18 billion, reduced to $9 billion, to the plaintiffs.

The judgment demonstrated perhaps the high-water point for trial lawyer shakedowns against U.S. businesses, as Kaplan demolished the two-decade litigatory attack.  From the damning, nearly 500-page ruling:

[Donziger] and the Ecuadorian lawyers he led corrupted the Lago Agrio case. They submitted fraudulent evidence. They coerced one judge, first to use a court-appointed, supposedly impartial, “global expert” to make an overall damages assessment and, then, to appoint to that important role a man whom Donziger hand-picked and paid to “totally play ball” with the [Lago Agrio plaintiffs]. They then paid a Colorado consulting firm secretly to write all or most of the global expert’s report, falsely presented the report as the work of the court-appointed and supposedly impartial expert, and told half-truths or worse to U.S. courts in attempts to prevent exposure of that and other wrongdoing. Ultimately, the [Lago Agrio plaintiff] team wrote the Lago Agrio court’s Judgment themselves and promised $500,000 to the Ecuadorian judge to rule in their favor and sign their judgment. If ever there were a case warranting equitable relief with respect to a judgment procured by fraud, this is it.

Since the early March ruling, many other developments have taken place, to say the least, too much to recap in the limited space of a blog entry. For the public interested in the story, we'd recommend "Law of the Jungle: The $19 Billion Legal Battle Over Oil in the Rain Forest and the Lawyer Who'd Stop at Nothing to Win," by Bloomberg/Businessweek's Paul M. Barrett, due out in September. 

Still, a few highlights, ranging from $85-a-day protesters against Chevron, to law firm debacles, to ever more desperate rhetoric from the trial lawyers:

Paul M. Barrett, "The Real Waste Behind the Phony Anti-Chevron Protesters":

The mystery of the fake anti-Chevron (CVX) protest continues to thicken. As I reported last week, the oil company’s May 28 annual shareholder meeting in Midland, Tex., drew an environmental demonstration populated by phony participants who were paid $85 each to wave signs and shout slogans.

“It seemed very staged,” Maria Garay told me Monday. A Brooklyn (N.Y.)-based public relations executive, Garay helped promote the event but said she had nothing to do with the fake demonstrators. She doesn’t know who they were or who paid them. “There was a tall guy with platinum blond hair who was telling them what to chant and where to stand,” Garay said.

Normally, the identity of the platinum blond guy—and, for that matter, this entire bizarre episode—might seem like a minor embarrassment to serious opponents of pollution. It’s more important, though, because it’s emblematic of the dishonesty that has come to permeate a two-decade-long activist campaign focused on oil contamination in Ecuador.

No, the platinum blond guy wasn't Sting. He's not that tall. And the blond comes and goes.

More ...

Midland-Reporter Telegraph, "Chevron responds to recent op-ed from Ecuador’s ambassador":

The recent column by Ecuador’s Ambassador Nathalie Cely contains several glaring omissions and falsehoods.

Most importantly, she fails to mention that in March a U.S. federal court ruled that the Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron was the product of fraud and racketeering activity, finding it unenforceable in the United States. As presiding Judge Lewis Kaplan stated in the court’s ruling: “The wrongful actions of Donziger and his Ecuadorian legal team would be offensive to the laws of any nation that aspires to the rule of law, including Ecuador -- and they knew it.”

Finally, "60 Minutes" slightly corrects the record on its March 2009 segment on the litigation. Seems like a full-blown, broadcast retraction would be more journalistically sound