A federal judge delivered a court victory to Chevron on Tuesday, ruling that a U.S. lawyer had engaged in "corrupt means" to obtain a multi-billion dollar judgment in 2011 against the oil giant for its decades of pollution in Ecuador.
Critics of the ruling say it means further injustice for the tens of thousands of Ecuadoreans who continue to live with the legacy left by Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001, from its dumping toxic waste and spilling millions of gallons of crude oil between 1964 and 1992, creating what has been dubbed a Chernobyl in the Amazon which has sickened both ecosystems and communities.
The New York Times reports:
Central in the decision was Judge Lewis A. Kaplan’s view of Steven Donziger, a Manhattan lawyer who has led the legal effort but who was accused by Chevron of ghostwriting a crucial report submitted to the Ecuadorean court to decide the case and even participating in the bribing of the deciding judge. Chevron sued Mr. Donziger and several associates, accusing them of masterminding a conspiracy to extort from and defraud the corporation.
Among the witnesses was Ecuadorean judge Nicolas Zambrano, who issued the 2011 ruling. He said that he had not received payment or outside assistance in coming to his decision.
Though Kaplan found that Chevron "might bear some responsibility" for the pollution, Reuters reports that his ruling "bars Donziger and the villagers from enforcing the Ecuadorean ruling in the United States. It may also give Chevron legal ammunition in other countries where the plaintiffs could try to go after Chevron's assets."
Amazon Watch, a nonprofit organization and ally of the affected Ecuadoran villagers, denounced Kaplan's ruling as "misguided" and a sign of corporate power trumping justice for the people.
Donziger said the ruling ignored the company's environmental crimes.
"With all due respect to the court, this is an appalling decision resulting from of a deeply flawed proceeding that overturns a unanimous ruling by Ecuador’s Supreme Court. 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 Ecuadorean clients, and their country infect his view of the case," he said in statement.
"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," Donziger continued. "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."
Chevron called the ruling a "resounding victory."