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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
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Chevron’s Judge-Pal Says Successor Expected a Cut

MANHATTAN (CN) - There was no way a judge wrote the ruling that awarded villagers of an oil-polluted region of Ecuador $19 billion, Chevron's star witness testified Thursday, saying the order came from the villagers' lawyers with the promise of compensation.

Alberto Guerra said that the judge who succeeded him on the case, Nicolas Zambrano, ordered him to make the decision "look like it was written by a judge in the court."

Guerra had previously testified that Zambrano paid him $1,000 a month of his own money to ghostwrite orders for him, including the recusal order that put Zambrano on the bench. On Thursday, Guerra estimated that he earned $40,000 from Zambrano by secretly writing more than 100 orders and making edits to the Chevron decision in 2011.

Attorneys for the Ecuadoreans ghostwrote that ruling, and Zambrano simply rubber-stamped it, Guerra said.

Before doing so, however, Zambrano allegedly had Guerra clean up some punctuation and grammatical mistakes in the draft.

"Initially, at first glance, it did not seem that it had been prepared by a judge," Guerra said. "I made changes to the record so that it would seem the document was written by a judge."

It was the seventh day of trial in Chevron's racketeering lawsuit accusing American attorney Steven Donziger of bribing Zambrano with $500,000 and skewing test results to find Chevron liable for massive oil pollution in the Amazon. Donziger has denied wrongdoing.

During cross-examination Thursday, Guerra also testified that he and Chevron had a deal where the oil giant agreed to pay him $10,000 a month for him and his family, plus a $2,000 monthly housing allowance, health insurance, a leased automobile, an immigration attorney and moving expenses.

Details of the agreement between Guerra and Chevron were first revealed in court papers filed in January. Chevron's attorneys with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher asserted that Chevron and its counsel "have at all times acted ethically, legally and forthrightly."

Guerra said in his written testimony that Chevron paid him $48,000 to let it access evidence from his personal computer, cellphones, phone records, bank records and credit card statements.

He also said Pablo Fajardo, the lead attorney for the villagers, offered to pay his airfare, hotel expenses and $5,000 for giving testimony, but that he declined.

Donziger called Chevron's federal racketeering case a "farce." In a September motion, he and his co-defendants estimated that Guerra was once paid $18,000 in cash from a suitcase by a Chevron lawyer, and that, over time, he's earned $326,000 in cash from Chevron.

"Chevron is essentially bribing a judge to say I bribed a judge," Donziger said.

Chevron insisted in court documents that it's not paying for Guerra's testimony - but that it is "compensating Guerra for the expense he continues to incur in order to testify - the expense of a force relocation from his homeland where he and his family are no longer safe."

Guerra said in his written statement that he and his family feared for their lives when they left Ecuador for the United States in January 2013. He says the Republic of Ecuador has retaliated against him with a "fabricated criminal complaint" for the crime of "incitement of separatism."

Guerra had been the first of several judges to oversee the case in Ecuador from May 2003 to January 2004.

Chevron hopes he will be key in discrediting the award to villagers in Lago Agrio left with severe health problems from the decades of oil-drilling in their region.

Although Chevron never drilled in Ecuador, the subsidiary it acquired in 2001 - Texaco - spent several decal decades in the country. Chevron also says Texaco had already paid to remediate any damage, and that any the bigger responsibility for the health problems belong to the state-owned oil company, Petroecuador.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan is hearing the case without a jury. He's being asked to declare the award illegitimate. Such a ruling could help Chevron fight off collection actions against it in Brazil, Argentina and Canada.

Guerra is expected to face continued cross-examination Friday.

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