MANHATTAN (CN) - A judge who ordered Chevron to pay billions for oil contamination in Ecuador claimed to have taped a phone conversation in which the oil giant's lawyer made "unseemly proposals."
In his third day of testimony Thursday, Nicolas Zambrano, a former judge in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, spoke of a call he received this past January from Chevron attorney Andres Rivero.
Zambrano's name appears on the 2011 decision that forces Chevron to pay more than $8 billion for drilling by its predecessor Texaco, which operated in the rainforest from 1972 to 1992. Ecuadorean courts later raised the penalty to $19 billion, after Chevron refused to apologize for the pollution and opposed collection of the judgment.
A transcript of Zambrano's conversation with Rivero shows the lawyer wanting to give Zambrano "major news" about Chevron's quest to invalidate the judgment.
Rivero said he did not want to talk about the details over the phone, but said that the development involved Alberto Guerra, the first judge to hear the case in Ecuador.
"He has already told me the truth about the situation," Rivero said, referring to Guerra. "I know you have a relationship with..."
"I see, what..." Zambrano interrupts, before Rivero cuts in again.
Guerra, who ultimately signed up as a witness for Chevron, recently testified that Chevron's courtroom opponents bribed him to ghostwrite the judgment against the oil giant in return for a cut of the award. He said that he stitched together the text from a fraudulent scientific report by court-appointed expert Richard Cabrera, who allegedly adopted findings by the firm that formerly represented Chevron's opponents: Stratus Consulting.
Stratus executives are among the droves of Chevron's former foes now testifying in support of their extortion claims.
Lawyers for the Ecuadoreans, in turn, allege a far-flung conspiracy of their own: that Chevron has bribed and bullied its courtroom opponents to avoid accountability for an environmental disaster.
Both narratives faced off during Zambrano's three days of testimony.
On Tuesday, Zambrano showed a poor understanding of the ruling that he allegedly wrote when given a pop quiz by Chevron's attorney Randy Mastro. The former judge said he had forgotten the decision's main legal theory of causation, and what the ruling labeled "the most powerful carcinogenic agent considered in this decision." He testified that he dictated the decision to his 18-year-old secretary, who supposedly helped him research citations in French and English, languages neither of them could understand.
Reeling from Zambrano's poor test performance, a spokesman for the Ecuadoreans insisted that "language and cultural barriers" in the questioning led to "misleading 'gotcha' moments" in court. He attributed the English and French citations to the Ecuadorean Supreme Court decision in the case of Caso Esmeraldas.
Although Zambrano said he threw out all of his notes documenting how he reached the ruling, Chevron claims that Guerra turned over its drafts while signing up as an expert witness for the company. Among the other physical evidence is a $300 deposit slip from Zambrano to Guerra. Chevron characterizes the payment as part of a bribery conspiracy, and Zambrano insists it's a loan to a friend who had fallen upon hard times.
Attorneys for the Ecuadoreans attempted to patch up such damaging testimony as they took over questioning on Zambrano's second day on the hot seat. First up was Rainey Booth of the Texas-based firm Littlepage Booth, representing Steven Donziger, the American lawyer who spearheaded the case against Chevron.