Chevron Argues It Is a Victim of Attorney's 'Shakedown'
Chevron attorney Randy Mastro assailed plaintiffs' lawyer Steven Donziger today, accusing him of running a massive scheme to extort a $19 billion environmental judgment against the oil company in Ecuador.
Launching his case in opening arguments before Southern District Judge Lewis Kaplan, Mastro said Donziger bribed a judge and had coconspirators ghost-write judicial opinions in the litigation in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, as a part of a plot to "coerce a big pay day out of the company to make the pain go away."
"It's been a long hard road to get here, but judgment day is at hand," said Mastro, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. He urged Kaplan to hold Donziger responsible as the man who "masterminded and orchestrated" the scheme and along the way committed "multiple acts of wire and mail fraud, extortion, bribery, witness tampering and money laundering."
"Your honor, it's a shakedown scheme pure and simple," Mastro said.
But Donziger's lawyer Richard Friedman said Mastro had his client all wrong, as Donziger had come to the aid of a poor, "disfavored minority"—the indigenous people of the Amazonian rain forest in the Oriente region in Ecuador, who were left to deal with the oil pollution created by Texaco, Chevron's predecessor in Ecuador.
"He was trying to hold a multi-national corporation responsible for the environmental harm to a third-world country," Friedman said of Donziger and the $19 billion award in the Lago Agrio litigation. "He's here because he managed to get justice for his clients."
Friedman, of Friedman Rubin in Washington State, came into the case just a few weeks ago along with Zoe Littlepage of Littlepage & Booth in Houston.
They face an uphill battle defending Donziger against racketeering and fraud allegations in the bench trial before Kaplan, who has found in prior opinions that there was a likelihood that the judgment was procured by fraud.
Kaplan in 2011 issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment after finding it likely the judgment was procured by fraud, but he was later reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (NYLJ, Sept. 20, 2011).
The case was originally brought against Texaco in New York in 1993, but it was later dismissed on grounds of forum non conveniens. Texaco later settled the litigation in Ecuador in a deal in which it promised extensive clean-up efforts in the Oriente that Donziger says the company never delivered on.