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Chevron Wins Next Round Versus Donziger

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Resourceful Earth has written previously about the ongoing case involving Chevron and various Ecuadorian tribes. While we are sympathetic to the environmental damage, we aren’t convinced that Chevron has any legal liability for what happened long ago under the Texaco Corporation. Recently, a federal judge seems to agree:

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan on Tuesday issued a voluminous opinion regarding Chevron Corp.’s claims against New York lawyer Steven Donziger and his litigation team, saying a record $9.5 billion environmental judgment in Ecuador against the oil giant was “obtained by corrupt means.”

Judge Kaplan found that Mr. Donziger and his litigation team engaged in coercion, bribery, money laundering and other criminal conduct in pursuit of the 2011 verdict, and barred Mr. Donziger and his two Ecuadorean co-defendants from profiting from the verdict.

There is also an updated FAQ at The Wall Street Journal:

Why is the ruling important?

The case stems from a 2003 lawsuit filed by a group of Ecuadorean villagers from the Lago Agrio region over decades-old pollution from oil exploration in the Amazon rain forest by Texaco Inc., which Chevron acquired in 2001. The lawsuit ultimately resulted in a $19 billion verdict against Chevron in 2011 that is believed to be the largest-ever environmental judgment. In November, an Ecuadorean high court scaled back the award to $9.5 billion but upheld the decision in favor of the plaintiffs. Chevron has denied liability for any environmental damage, and accused Mr. Donziger and others who represented the plaintiffs of committing numerous misdeeds in Ecuador and the U.S. in order to extort billions from the oil giant.

Who is Steven Donziger?

Mr. Donziger represented the Ecuadorean plaintiffs in their suit against Chevron. The court’s decision barred Mr. Donziger and his two Ecuadorean co-defendants from profiting from the 2011 verdict, and could hamper efforts to enforce the 2011 judgment by pursuing Chevron’s assets in Canada and elsewhere. The lawyers representing Mr. Donziger in the civil racketeering trial in November had said Mr. Donziger “may be a jerk” who employed tactics some might find “noisy, boisterous” or even rude in his efforts to defeat Chevron, but he isn’t a criminal. Chevron has said that Mr. Donziger and others on his team fabricated evidence and ghostwrote much of the original verdict, charges denied by both Mr. Donziger and the judge who issued the judgment against Chevron, Nicolas Zambrano

Effectively the ruling states that Donziger and his clients have no legal right to attempt to collect a judgement — issued in Ecuador — in the United States. Chevron can theoretically still collect the money in other countries where Chevron has assets, but this ruling would seem to make it less likely.

Donziger appears to be on a life-long quest to win this trial, so its unlikely he’ll give up until he has to. In the past, money was an issue for Donziger, who sold potential legal claims to the settlement to various investors. In the meantime, Donziger plans to appeal the ruling in the United States.

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