Kaplan to Decide Chevron's Charges Against Donziger
The pitched battle between Chevron Corporation and a lawyer and Ecuadorians who won a multi-billion-dollar environmental judgment against the oil company in Ecuador is set for trial on Oct. 15, before Southern District Judge Lewis Kaplan (See Profile).
Kaplan Monday denied the request of attorney Steven Donziger and two of his Ecuadorian clients for a jury trial in the case, where Chevron is alleging Donziger ran a racketeering conspiracy to win the so-called Lago Agrio litigation in Ecuador by fraud, and Donziger is accusing Chevron of scorched-earth tactics to avoid taking financial responsibility for environmental damage left behind by a predecessor oil company.
Chevron filed suit in New York in 2011 after losing in the Lago Agrio case and just ahead of being assessed $19 billion in damages by a court in Ecuador. The oil company claims the Ecuadorian judiciary had been intimidated and corrupted by Donziger, a claim he denies.
Chevron also launched actions in multiple jurisdictions seeking to prevent the Lago Agrio plaintiffs from attaching its assets anywhere in the world to ensure payment of the judgment.
The trial set for Oct. 15 comes in Chevron v. Donziger, 11-cv-00691, where Chervon is pursing single counts of civil racketeering and fraud, and two counts of conspiracy against Donziger, who is proceeding pro se, and Hugo Camacho and Javier Payaguaje, two representative Lago Agrio plaintiffs, represented by Julio Gomez of Westfield, N.J.
The case has been marked by vitriol as both sides have leveled serious charges against each other and Donziger's team has repeatedly accused the judge of bias in issuing a host of rulings in favor of Chevron—a claim that resurfaced when Chevron dropped its pursuit of money damages in September, opening the door to a bench trial.
Chevron will find out later this week whether Kaplan will allow a fifth count to be added—one for unjust enrichment, a claim that Chevron lawyer Randy Mastro, a partner with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, says is equitable and one that keeps this a bench trial. Donziger argues the opposite, saying the unjust enrichment claim is, in effect, a money claim that warrants trial by jury.
Chevron gave notice it was dropping its claim for money damages on Sept. 8 and Kaplan asked both parties why the case should not proceed as a bench trial.
On Sept. 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected Donziger's latest attempt to have Kaplan yanked from the case.