Chevron in Ecuador

The archive of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign website

Confronting Bribery and Bullying by Oil Company and Hostility of Judge, Lawyers Seek Withdrawal from New York Case

Chevron can afford to litigate until hell freezes over, but impoverished plaintiffs refuse to play along.

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New York, NY – Denouncing Chevron's use of bullying, bribery and its overwhelming financial power to crush defendants in a hostile courtroom, attorneys Craig Smyser and John Keker filed motions Friday afternoon to withdraw as counsel in the Southern District of New York case brought by Chevron against the participants in the successful $19 billion environmental contamination verdict obtained in Ecuador in 2011.

The move comes amidst mounting evidence that Chevron bribed witnesses, including former Ecuadorean Judge Alberto Guerra, whose testimony is at the center of Chevron's case in New York. In a taped July 13, 2012, meeting between Chevron lawyer Andres Rivero and Guerra, which took place in Quito, Rivero says that he brought to the meeting $20,000 cash, "money that's in the suitcase," to pay Guerra for allegations that the Ecuador plaintiffs were improperly involved in the writing of the judgment in the case. Asked by Rivero if $20,000 was enough, Guerra replied "Couldn"t we add a couple of zeroes to that?" Details here.

Citing Judge Lewis Kaplan's "implacable hostility" and Chevron "using its limitless resources to crush defendants and win this case through might rather than merit," Keker asked permission to withdraw. Keker, representing New York attorney Steven Donziger, said his San Francisco firm is owed substantial fees and that continuing the case as Judge Kaplan is running it through discovery and trial will cost millions. "Donziger cannot afford to pay to defend himself against a wealthy corporation in a hostile court," Keker said. His filing is here. He said Donziger would represent himself.

"Chevron has resorted to a strategy of bribery and litigious bullying," said Smyser, the Houston-based attorney who represents the Ecuadorians harmed by Chevron's oil and chemical spills. "Chevron is Goliath, using its might to assault these people who have been living in the company's toxic mess for more than 20 years. There is no reason for indigent clients to pay to play along with Chevron's game." Smyser's motion is here.

"As evidence grows stronger by the day of Chevron's corrupt actions in this case, we are scaling back in New York to focus on the main issue: enforcing the $19 billion judgment around the world." said Pablo Fajardo, lead counsel in Ecuador where indigenous people and subsistence farmers won a historic judgment that was upheld on appeal. "The New York case is a distraction, a sideshow aimed at exhausting our resources."

The 2nd Circuit has said it will hear in May a motion by the Ecuadorians to remove Judge Kaplan because of his persistent bias. Meanwhile, courts in Argentina have frozen Chevron's assets and 40 percent of its revenues. A provincial court in Canada yesterday acknowledged jurisdiction for the Ecuadorians but said Chevron subsidiaries were shielded; it will be appealed. A Brazilian enforcement action is pending and filings in other countries will come this year.

Humberto Piaguaje, coordinator of the plaintiffs in the case in Ecuador, said the trial and appeal in that country was based on hard scientific data submitted by both sides. "The issues raised by Chevron in New York were raised and decided in Ecuador," he said.

Fajardo said he did not expect Chevron's litigation in Judge Kaplan's court to have any impact on the final review of the award in Ecuador nor in attachment litigation around the world. "The New York case is a very expensive show trial," he said. He said the plaintiffs respect Keker's and Smyser's decisions and are in solidarity with Donziger. "Our clients have extremely limited resources precisely because Chevron has refused to do the right thing and pay the valid judgment it once promised to honor," he said.