Amazon Defense Coalition
15 February 2013 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
New Orleans, LA – A U.S. federal appellate court dealt Chevron another setback in its $19 billion Ecuador case by ordering the oil giant to turn over key discovery documents relating to an American technical expert accused by the plaintiffs of committing fraud on the Ecuador court.
A three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans this week unanimously denied Chevron's attempt to shield expert John Conner from his discovery obligations. Conner, who lives in Houston, was the apparent mastermind behind a Chevron scheme to hide dirty soil samples from the court during the Ecuador trial so the company could evade its legal obligations.
Evidence also surfaced from other Chevron experts that Conner doctored an internal company document to make it appear that its field sampling during the trial was neutral, rather than an attempt to hide the obvious contamination at the well sites being inspected. Conner is a longtime Chevron technical expert whose credibility recently suffered a major blow when a jury in Mississippi rejected his testimony, leading to a large judgment against Chevron.
In a decision authored by Judge Edith Jones, the Fifth Circuit panel reversed a trial court decision that denied Conner's discovery in a lawsuit filed by the Republic of Ecuador. Ecuador is seeking the documents to use in an international arbitration brought by Chevron to try to shift the $19 billion liability to Ecuadorian taxpayers. Jones took Chevron to task for having "deliberately taken inconsistent positions" across different courts in the litigation to try to evade its discovery obligations. The full decision can be read here.
The Fifth Circuit decision was praised by Humberto Piaguaje, a leader of the Secoya indigenous group in Ecuador and the coordinator of the case for the dozens of rainforest communities impacted by Chevron's contamination.
"This ruling is another blow to Chevron's attempts to hide evidence of its environmental crimes in Ecuador," he said. "It also will provide further proof that John Conner was paid by Chevron to commit a fraud during the trial."
The latest decision likely will force Chevron to disclose evidence that proves it knew internally that the company caused massive pollution in Ecuador and then tried to hide it from the court, said Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the rainforest communities. Chevron admitted that it dumped more than 16 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon when it operated in Ecuador from 1964 to 1992 under the Texaco brand.
The ruling, which came down on Wednesday, is the latest in a long series of courtroom setbacks for Chevron in U.S. and international courts. The affected communities filed their claims in 1993 in New York, but the case was shifted to Ecuador at the oil company's request.Just last week, an appellate court in Argentina unanimously affirmed an order that froze most of Chevron's assets in that country, estimated to be worth $2 billion. Seizure and enforcement actions also are pending against Chevron in Canada and Brazil, with up to $15 billion in assets targeted.
A summary analysis of Chevron's court results in the U.S., prepared after tracking 23 separate legal actions filed by Chevron and its lead outside counsel Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, found that not a single U.S. court at any level – trial, appellate, or even the U.S. Supreme Court – has accepted Chevron's fake fraud narrative in any kind of definitive finding, and the vast majority of courts to hear Chevron arguments have flatly rejected them.
The summary found that 18 different U.S. federal trial courts and now all five federal appellate courts to hear aspects of the case have either rejected Chevron's claims outright, or refused to adopt them. Separately, the U.S. Supreme Court also denied a Chevron petition to review a decision denying its request for a global injunction blocking the Ecuadorians from enforcing their judgment anywhere in the world.
In addition, two courts in Ecuador have flatly rejected Chevron's fraud claims in the most definitive rulings yet on Chevron's arguments.
In February 2011, after an eight-year trial, an Ecuador trial court found Chevron liable for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon. Evidence showed indigenous groups were decimated by the pollution and that thousands of people have either died or are at risk of contracting cancer.
Conner, Chevron's lead consultant and testifying expert in Ecuador, admitted in the Mississippi trial that he has been paid "at least" $8 million by Chevron for his work and that as much as $5 million of that amount derived from the Ecuador case.
"John Connor has virtually no credibility as an expert scientist given his numerous errors and dismal performance in the Mississippi trial," Ed Flechas, who won the judgment against Chevron, said at the time. The jury in that case awarded $19 million to individuals who suffered severe physical and mental impairment for being exposed to toxins flowing from Chevron's abandoned oil tanks.