Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ahead of Trial, Chevron Drops $60 Billion Damages Claim Against Ecuadorians in RICO Suit; Maneuvering to Avoid Airing of its Crimes in Ecuador

In a clear 11th-hour retreat that suggests it does not believe its own allegations, Chevron has taken the extraordinary step of pleading with a U.S. judge to block a jury from deciding its retaliatory “fraud” and RICO claims against Ecuadorian villagers and their U.S. lawyer. The company also said it was even prepared to drop a $60 billion damages claim if the judge agrees to deny the defendants a jury trial. Chevron's $60 billion figure is based on three times the $19 billion Ecuadorian judgement, plus costs.

Thus reads the introduction of a press release today—the headline: 'Bombshell Retreat: Chevron Seeks to Drop $60 Billion in Damages In Ecuador Case'—from the Gowen Group, whose founding partner Chris Gowen is serving as an adviser to the Ecuadorians and their longtime New York-based lawyer, Steven Donziger.

Chevron filed a series of motions over the weekend in the retaliatory lawsuit the oil giant filed against Donziger as well as the Ecuadorians whose names appear as representative plaintiffs in the original lawsuit against Chevron for massive contamination of their rainforest communities. Here is the motion dropping its damages claims against the Ecuadorians.

Adviser Chris Gowen said, “Chevron has shown over and over that its only legal strategy is to outspend everyone and continue to run from the law for another twenty years. When a litigant tries to avoid a jury, you can be certain that litigant knows it has no case. This is an extraordinarily telling moment that suggests a collapse of confidence in the Chevron camp.”

The press release continues:
Donziger and his clients have long contended that Chevron’s RICO case was a function of distorted and manufactured evidence helped along by Judge Kaplan, who has consistently made disparaging remarks about Ecuador’s judicial system. Donziger filed detailed counterclaims accusing Chevron of using the RICO case as a smokescreen to hide its environmental crimes, fraud and bribery attempts in Ecuador. (Kaplan has refused to let those claims go forward in the context of the RICO trial.)
And then it quotes Donziger:
“For three years, Chevron has used its RICO suit largely for public relations purposes to falsely taint the Ecuador case and tarnish my personal reputation. When it comes time to put their allegations to the test, Chevron chickens out and runs into the arms of its favorite judge for protection. The entire situation is an affront to American values.”
Advocates for the indigenous and farmer communities in the areas polluted by Chevron have for several years kept a spotlight on exactly why Judge Lewis Kaplan is what Donziger calls “its favorite judge.” He has shown shocking pro-Chevron bias; he calls the environmental lawsuit "a giant game" and the Ecuadorians the “so-called plaintiffs” and refers to them enforcing the judgment they won against the company by saying, "I don't think there is anybody in this courtroom who wants to pull his car into a gas station to fill up and finds that there isn't any gas there because these folks have attached [the company's assets] in Singapore or wherever else."

Donziger and the Ecuadorians have filed a writ of mandamus petition asking the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to remove Judge Kaplan for his impartiality in the case. On Sept. 26th, a 3-judge panel from the appellate court will hear arguments on the motion for Judge Kaplan's reassignment from the trial—that is, only a few weeks before the RICO trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 15th. As the release states, “The scheduling of such an argument just before trial is a rare occurrence and suggests the higher court is watching Kaplan with great scrutiny.”

With these latest court filings, according to Donziger and his team, Chevron's goal is:
to have Kaplan conduct a rapid "show trial" that would bar Donziger and his clients from mounting a meaningful defense. Once Kaplan makes his expected “findings” against Donziger and the Ecuadorians, Chevron would then ask him to re-issue the same controversial global injunction purporting to bar worldwide enforcement of the Ecuador judgment that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals already ruled was illegal in 2011.
The most shocking stuff in Chevron's latest legal machinations is laid out plainly in their summary Notice of Motions in limine, which is an astonishing request to Judge Kaplan that he issues orders that would basically prevent Donziger and the Ecuadorians from mounting any sort of defense, or bring up any evidence of Chevron's contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon, or its bad faith conduct during the trial in Ecuador.

Here is an excerpt:
Chevron requests that this Court enter an order:
  • precluding Defendants from offering at trial evidence, arguments, or questioning in support of the proposition that the findings of the Cabrera report, the Ecuadorian judgment, or Defendants’ allegations in the Ecuadorian proceeding were accurate or supported by evidence and sound scientific analysis, including but not limited to a prohibition on the submission of evidence, arguments, or questioning regarding the following topics, except insofar as the evidence is otherwise relevant: 
  • alleged environmental and human conditions in the Oriente region of Ecuador, including scientific or other studies, testing or sampling results, video or still images, or personal testimonies; and 
  • the procedures employed in the TexPet Remediation, the efficacy of those procedures, or their compliance with agreements and with Ecuadorian law.
In the motion, Chevron shows real hubris going even further, asking Judge Kaplan to preclude the defendants from raising at trial:
  • Chevron’s purported conduct in the Lago Agrio Litigation, including contacts with Ecuadorian government officials, arguments made by Chevron to the Lago Agrio Court, the cancellation and subsequent rescheduling of the Guanta inspection, Chevron’s purported “sting” operation against an Ecuadorian judge, Chevron’s use of a purported “sham laboratory”, Chevron’s purported “procedural misconduct” in filing motions in the Lago Agrio Litigation, Chevron’s purported ex parte contacts with Ecuadorian judges and court experts, any “harassment” supposedly suffered by Defendants or their co-conspirators, and any argument that their actions were justified by virtue of Chevron’s alleged misconduct; 
  • Chevron’s conduct in this and other litigation in the United States, including Chevron’s purported misuse of Section 1782 to obtain discovery for use in the Lago Agrio Litigation, Chevron’s subpoenas to email providers seeking information about Defendants and their co-conspirators, and Chevron’s surveillance of Defendants and their co-conspirators; and 
  • alleged promises and representations made by Texaco and/or TexPet in the Aguinda litigation.
You can read the entire motion here, and see how Chevron is hoping to abuse the judicial process in this RICO show trial, in a similar way that the company abused the judicial process in Ecuador, in an attempt to evade accountability for its disaster in the Amazon.

But the 2nd Circuit is watching. As are global supporters of the Ecuadorian communities. As are the communities themselves, who continue fighting for justice, despite the abuse they continue to deal with, from the oil-polluted environment they live in to courtrooms thousands of miles away.

For background on how Chevron decimated indigenous and farmer communities by dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste in Ecuador’s Amazon, watch this video overview or this 60 Minutes segment, or review this summary of the overwhelming evidence against the company.  Chevron is now fighting a $19 billion judgment against the company.

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