Today, the legal team for Steven Donziger and the Ecuadorians targeted by Chevron's retaliatory RICO suit filed a motion—filled with devastating detail—to strike the testimony of the oil giant's star witness.
That star witness, disgraced former Ecuadorian Judge Alberto Guerra, testified during the RICO trial last week that representatives of the Lago Agrio Plaintiffs secured the opportunity to ghostwrite the 2011 judgment against Chevron issued by the Ecuadorian court by promising the presiding judge $500,000.
Well, I guess Chevron can rest its case. Silver bullet. Or, more like magic bullet.
One of the main problems with the story—besides the fact that it never happened—is that after weaving his tall tale, Guerra admitted that he had offered between ten and twenty bribes to judges during his career as a lawyer and after becoming a judge, accepted about the same number of bribes, sometimes for as small as $200, to "fix" cases.
But it gets worse, at least for the credibility of his fanciful testimony. From today's motion:
Guerra further understood from multiple conversations and lunch meetings with Chevron attorneys—where, as Guerra’s testimony revealed, they always fully heard out his offers and consulted with their principals before allegedly saying “no”—that as an out-of-work former judge with no role in the case, he simply didn’t have the “goods” Chevron wanted. Guerra had every incentive to manufacture those goods so that he could bargain hard with Chevron about the price of his testimony. And bargain he did, lying repeatedly to Chevron—i.e., that he was in possession of emails that would confirm Chevron’s ghostwriting allegations; that he possessed drafts of the Judgment; that the Lago Agrio Plaintiffs had recently offered him $300,000 to cooperate—in order to improve his bargaining position.
Okay, so the guy is an admitted liar and criminal but you know, maybe he's telling the truth now. What incentive could he possibly have to make up a new story now? Back to the motion:
When, after a long career of paying and accepting bribes, Guerra apparently decided that he would place himself in the service of Chevron, the former judge was earning $500 per month and had no savings. In contrast, Chevron has committed to paying Guerra, for a period of at least two years, a “salary” of $10,000 per month—20 times more than he was earning in Ecuador. It is unclear what need Guerra has for such a generous salary, in light of the fact that Chevron also: (i) provides Guerra with a monthly $2,000 “housing allowance”; (ii) bought Guerra a car and is paying for his auto insurance; (iii) is paying for health insurance to cover Guerra, his wife, his son, his son’s wife, and his grandchildren; (iv) paid Guerra roughly $12,000 to purchase household items upon his move to the U.S.; (v) paid Guerra’s moving expenses, including five airline tickets, transportation of personal items, and a temporary hotel stay upon arriving in the U.S.; (vi) paid Guerra roughly $50,000 in exchange for “evidence,” including $10,000 for belatedly finding a single document that supposedly eluded Guerra upon prior searches because it was “stuck” to something else; and (vii) pays the legal fees of Guerra’s various attorneys, including the fees of the lawyers handling immigration issues for his various family members. Guerra’s relocation on Chevron’s dime also reunited him with his daughter and a second son, who live in the U.S. and who Guerra had not seen in several years.
In other words, Chevron is bribing a judge to say that Donziger bribed a judge.
And the package Chevron has put together for this judge is outrageous, and egregiously runs afoul of federal law and ethical rules of conduct.
The motion outlines how the payments violate the federal Anti-Gratuity Statute as well as the Rules of Professional Conduct of New York, where the trial is taking place. By all means, read the motion for a detailed explanation of the rules but here is the view of prominent legal scholar and law professor Erwin Chemerinsky in a sworn declaration for the Defendants:
“if a party or its counsel were permitted to pay a testifying witness for physical evidence, beyond the reasonable value of that evidence, and to pay the witness a salary in exchange for an agreement to testify, there would be little left of the rule against compensating fact witnesses.”
And the conclusion of the motion on the payments to Guerra?:
The bottom line is that Guerra is and apparently always has been desperate for money, and will stoop to extraordinary lows to get it—including fabricating a story for Chevron, weaving big lies with small truths in an effort to create the illusion of a verified account. Guerra’s recent testimony only serves to drive his unreliability home.
The motion is well worth reading in its entirety as it also highlights the admitted lies, the contradictions, and the suspect assertions in Guerra's testimony, as well as the total lack of anything approaching corroborating evidence for his explosive allegations.
During cross-examination, Guerra explained that he spent 3-4 days of every week for 3 full months in New York working with a team of Gibson Dunn lawyers led by Randy Mastro in preparation for his two days in court. That should be enough time for even a novice actor to learn his lines, no matter how fanciful a story he’s telling.
And hey, if it means reuniting with his beloved family in the United States, where he’ll enjoy a lifestyle he could only dream of before, it’s time well spent. And then some.
And for Chevron?
Simple. Guerra’s testimony is Chevron’s ‘magic bullet’ to save its RICO case and help the company avoid paying the $19 billion judgment for its devastation of the Ecuadorian Amazon.
If it worked, it would be money well spent. And with a biased federal judge presiding, it probably will work – until a real court, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, reviews the matter down the road.
Never mind that the money spent on bribing Guerra to fabricate his story could be used to clean up the company’s contamination in Ecuador. But for Chevron, living up to its legal and moral responsibilities overseas would set a terrible precedent.
In the end, Guerra’s preposterous testimony, bought and paid for by Chevron, his court performance the culmination of months of preparation by a team of highly-paid lawyer-thespians at Gibson Dunn, adds one more layer of absurdity to the farce that the current proceedings represent. A single federal judge in New York can no more act as an appellate court for the entire Ecuadorian Judiciary than Alberto Guerra’s words can be taken as the truth. And Chevron can no more hide from the truth than the company’s legal machinations can conceal its contamination, and its liabilities, in Ecuador.