Chevron Abusing Courts to Delay Judgment in $27 Billion Environmental Suit, Amazon Leaders Say
Amazon Defense Coalition
20 February 2009 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Quito, Ecuador (February 20, 2009)-- Trying to make good on its promise of a "lifetime of litigation" for indigenous groups in the Amazon, Chevron is using fraudulent tactics to delay an Ecuadorian trial court from reaching a decision on a record $27 billion in environmental damages, say lawyers for local residents.
"Facing overwhelming evidence that it caused a massive human rights violation, Chevron is engaged in a judicial fraud in Ecuador to avoid paying a judgment," said Pablo Fajardo, the lawyer for 30,000 Amazonian residents filed the case in 1993. "The company has gone rogue and thousands of innocent people are the victims."
"Chevron does not respect the law and refuses to accept the legitimacy of the legal system because it knows it is about to lose the very trial that it fought to have in Ecuador," said Fajardo, referring to the fact Chevron fought for nine years in U.S. federal court to have the case shifted to Ecuador over the objections of the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit seeks damages for the dumping of more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways over a 26-year period when Texaco operated an oil consortium. Five indigenous groups have had their traditional lifestyles decimated and cancer rates in the area have skyrocketed, according to plaintiffs and an independent, court-appointed expert.
The court expert, Professor Richard Cabrera, worked with a team of 14 independent technical experts. They concluded it would take at least $27 billion to remediate the rainforest to safe levels and compensate people for health problems caused by the contamination. The amount would wipe out more than a year of the company's profits.
Saying that Chevron's knows the "game is up" and that if faces a multi-billion dollar judgment, lawyers for the rainforest residents are asking that the trial judge rule based on more than 250,000 pages of evidence and close to 80,000 chemical sampling results generated in the lawsuit. Chevron's top lawyer, Charles James, said recently that the company expects a "significant adverse judgment" in Ecuador.
"Chevron in this case has been granted more due process rights than probably any defendant in the history of civil justice," said Julio Prieto, a lawyer who works with Fajardo. "They have had 15 years to litigate, and they are still looking for new courts that will accept their theories of junk science that posit that known human carcinogens cannot cause harm to people if ingested. Once one court rules against them, they look for another court to start the process all over again.
"The reality is that Chevron will never accept any adverse ruling from an independent court," added Prieto.
Fajardo said Chevron's latest gambit is to seek eight additional field inspections even through the evidentiary phase of the trial ended months ago. Chevron's lawyers refused to schedule the requested inspections for almost three years, holding them back to be used as a vehicle to delay the trial in the eleventh hour.
It is unclear if the trial judge, Juan Nunez, will grant the eight inspections. Fajardo said Chevron will cynically claim its own rights were violated if the judge resists the company's pressure.
Some of Chevron's other abuses of the judicial process include:
- Trying to drown the court with more than 200,000 pages of documents, most of them repetitive. On several occasions, after losing a motion, the company has re-filed the exact same motion and insisted the judge rule in its favor.
- Claiming more field inspections need to be performed, even though the court already has inspected 94 sites over a five-year period - with 100% of the sites found to be contaminated, according to the court expert.
- Chevron continues to buy large advertisements accusing the independent court expert of "fraud" without any supporting evidence - a smear campaign that is intended to destroy the reputation of a respected Ecuadorian scientist, said Fajardo.
- Chevron also has refused to speak out against clear human rights abuses intended to intimidate lawyers for the plaintiffs and court personnel. Lawyers have received death threats, and the office of the court expert was mysteriously robbed of case-related materials.
Fajardo said Chevron's tactics not only violate the due process rights of the plaintiffs, but they also violate international law principles that prohibit parties from abusing the judicial process. The government of Ecuador has made the same charge against Chevron in a related international arbitration.