Federal district court Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled in favor of Chevron in a case that will complicate efforts by Ecuadorian villagers to collect on a $9.5 billion environmental damage verdict handed down in Ecuador in 2011.
The case grew out of a legal effort by the villagers to hold Texaco and its successor company Chevron accountable for pollution over decades of the Lago Agrio region of the Amazon rain forest.
In a 485-page decision, Judge Kaplan ruled that attorney Steven Donziger and his legal colleagues in Ecuador “corrupted” the Lago Agrio case and thus could not profit from the decision.
Donziger immediately lashed back at Judge Kaplan.
“With all due respect to the court, this is an appalling decision resulting from a deeply flawed proceeding that overturns a unanimous ruling by Ecuador’s Supreme Court,” Donziger said in a prepared statement.
“We believe Judge Kaplan is wrong on the law and wrong on the facts and that he repeatedly let his implacable hostility toward me, my Ecuadorian clients, and their country infect his view of the case.”
“This decision is full of vitriol, is based on paid evidence from a corrupt former judge, and ignores the overwhelming evidence that Chevron committed environmental crimes and fraud in Ecuador. Through this decision, we now have the spectacle of a Manhattan trial judge purporting to overrule Ecuador’s Supreme Court on questions of Ecuadorian law. All of these factual and legal issues will be addressed in due course on appeal. We are confident we will be fully vindicated in the U.S., as we have been in Ecuador.”
“Well before the trial began, Judge Kaplan made it clear he would rule against us. By not allowing me and my clients to argue before a jury, we did not have a chance to tell the real story of Chevron’s wrongdoing in Ecuador which proves the judgment is based on overwhelming and unassailable scientific evidence that Chevron committed an environmental disaster that continues to harm to thousands of people.”
“It is worth nothing that this ruling is a far cry from what Chevron wanted. It does not block enforcement of the Ecuador judgment. Nothing in Judge Kaplan’s ruling will prevent my clients from pursuing the judgment’s enforcement in other countries. The villagers deserve justice, and I am confident they will get it despite Chevron’s effort to flout the rule of law.”
“I will continue my efforts on behalf of my clients consistent with the law. I also will pursue an immediate and expedited appeal so that a panel of impartial judges can review this decision as quickly as possible.”
Donziger’s attorney, Deepak Gupta, issued a statement saying that Judge Kaplan’s decision “should be extremely troubling for anybody who cares about the rule of law.”
“This court has taken the extraordinary and unprecedented step of appointing itself a worldwide fact-finding commission and issuing what is in effect a global anti-collection injunction that would preclude enforcement of a judgment from another country in every jurisdiction,” Gupta said. “The injunction is effectively indistinguishable from an injunction issued by Kaplan in the case two years ago that was struck down on appeal. This decision also effectively outlaws core activity protected by the First Amendment such as bringing lawsuits, holding protests, issuing press releases, and engaging public officials. This is particularly appalling given that this case is about holding a corporation accountable for refusing to clean up decades of toxic pollution in the Amazon.”
Judge Kaplan called the case “extraordinary.”
“The facts are many and sometimes complex,” Judge Kaplan wrote. “They include things that normally come only out of Hollywood – coded emails among Donziger and his colleagues describing their private interactions with and machinations directed at judges and a court appointed expert, their payments to a supposedly neutral expert out of a secret account, a lawyer
who invited a film crew to innumerable private strategy meetings and even to ex parte meetings with judges, an Ecuadorian judge who claims to have written the multibillion dollar decision but who was so inexperienced and uncomfortable with civil cases that he had someone else (a former judge who had been removed from the bench) draft some civil decisions for him, an 18-year old typist who supposedly did Internet research in American, English, and French law for the same judge, who knew only Spanish, and much more.”
“The evidence is voluminous. The transnational elements of the case make it sensitive and challenging. Nevertheless, the Court has had the benefit of a lengthy trial. It has heard 31 witnesses in person and considered deposition and/or other sworn or, in one instance, stipulated testimony of 37 others. It has considered thousands of exhibits. It has made its findings, which of necessity are lengthy and detailed.”
“Upon consideration of all of the evidence, including the credibility of the witnesses – though several of the most important declined to testify – the Court finds that Donziger began his
involvement in this controversy with a desire to improve conditions in the area in which his
Ecuadorian clients live. To be sure, he sought also to do well for himself while doing good for
others, but there was nothing wrong with that. In the end, however, he 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 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 plaintiff’s 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.”