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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Closing Act for Chevron’s RICO Claims Over Verdict in Ecuador

MANHATTAN (CN) - An American lawyer "shamed our profession" and "showed utter contempt for this court of law" in orchestrating a bribery conspiracy that helped a group of Ecuadoreans win a $9.5 billion verdict against Chevron, the oil giant's team told a federal judge Tuesday.

"Lawyers don't do that kind of thing. Criminals do," a heated Randy Mastro said of Steven Donziger during his closing arguments before U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is hearing Chevron's racketeering case against Donziger without a jury. "Mr. Donziger, there is no excuse for your lawlessness."

It was the last day of the often-contentious 16-day trial that involved dozens of witnesses and thousands of documents. Chevron had filed the underlying lawsuit in February 2011, days before Judge Nicolas Zambrano in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, ordered the company to pay billions for environmental devastation wrought there by decades of oil drilling.

Although Chevron never actually broke ground in Ecuador, it inherited the lawsuit when it acquired Texaco in 2001.

Chevron's Mastro said Donziger and his "criminal confederates" "masterminded and orchestrated the scheme" to engage in a "pressure campaign" to win the verdict by taking advantage of the Amazonian nation's corrupt legal system.

Donziger, a Harvard Law graduate, has vehemently denied the claims that he bribed judges, and that Judge Zambrano merely rubber-stamped a ruling that was written mostly by the attorneys or consultants for the plaintiffs, and illegally edited by another judge, Alberto Guerra, a star witness for Chevron who presided over the case before it went to Zambrano.

Though the initial $19 billion award included a penalty for Chevron's refusal to apologize, Ecuador's Supreme Court halved the award to $9.5 billion earlier this month.

"The biggest liar in this court is Steven Donziger," Mastro said. "It became all about the money. And with a single-minded focus, [Donziger] set his sights on Chevron with a scheme so audacious it would make even a Mafia boss blush."

Mastro's remark was an obvious nod to his much-publicized former work prosecuting mob cases in New York. He now is a partner at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.

Zoe Littlepage, one of Donziger's attorneys, maintained her client did nothing illegal, and that Chevron failed to prove its case by proffering only "claims to nowhere." She also said the oil giant failed to prove authorship of the order, and could not provide "a scrap of evidence" that Donziger had anything to do with Zambrino's ruling.

"Now is the time for proof," she said. "Steven Donziger may well be a jerk. That's not a crime. He may be disorganized. That's not a crime."

The same is true for other potential personality flaws, such as a penchant for salty language, difficultly working with others and disorganized finances.

"But again, that's not a crime," Littlepage said.

Julio Gomez, who represents the Donziger's alleged Ecuadorean co-conspirators, reminded Kaplan that he lacks the authority to hear this case because his clients have nothing to with the Southern District of New York, and what happened in a foreign court on foreign soil is not of Kaplan's concern.

"My clients hope that wisdom will not come too late," Gomez said.

Richard Friedman, another attorney for Donziger, warned Kaplan to be careful about the global impact of his ruling.

"Your decision will be read by people across the world," he said. "They'll also be looking to see if American courts follow their own rules."

But Chevron attorneys argued that the alleged racketeering activities were committed by Donziger - an American - to Chevron - an American company - giving Kaplan standing. In a statement, representatives of the villagers accused Kaplan of acting as the "world's appellate judge from his Manhattan courtroom," in "the most expensive corporate retaliation campaign in the history of human rights litigation."

They also said in a statement that it is "misleading and wrongheaded to try to judge them through an American lens, as Judge Kaplan is doing," and that he "has no business sitting in judgment of another nation's legal system; doing so interferes without nation's foreign relations."

Both sides must now submit post-trial briefs before Kaplan will make a ruling.

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