MANHATTAN (CN) - A $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron in Ecuador was "procured by corrupt means," a federal judge said Tuesday in a nearly 500-page ruling granting an injunction.
"Justice is not served by inflicting injustice," U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan wrote. "The ends do not justify the means. There is no 'Robin Hood' defense to illegal and wrongful conduct. And the defendants' 'this-is-the-way-it-is-done-in-Ecuador' excuses - actually a remarkable insult to the people of Ecuador - do not help them."
His ruling runs 497 pages with another 87 pages of appendices, and singles out Steven Donziger, an American attorney for the Ecuadoreans and the principal target of Chevron's racketeering claims.
"The wrongful actions of Donziger and his Ecuadorian legal team would be offensive to the laws of any nation that aspires to the rule of law, including Ecuador - and they knew it," Kaplan wrote. "Indeed, one Ecuadorian legal team member, in a moment of panicky candor, admitted that if documents exposing just part of what they had done were to come to light, 'apart from destroying the proceeding, all of us, your attorneys, might go to jail.' It is time to face the facts."
Donziger was nevertheless quick to highlight the limitations of the ruling, which he called "a far cry from what Chevron wanted."
"It does not block enforcement of the Ecuador judgment," Donziger said in a statement. "Nothing in Judge Kaplan's ruling will prevent my clients from pursuing the judgment's enforcement in other countries. The villagers deserve justice, and I am confident they will get it despite Chevron's effort to flout the rule of law."
While the injunction is indeed limited in scope, Kaplan also imposed a constructive trust that is "not limited geographically," Chevron's attorney Randy Mastro, with Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, said in a telephone press conference.
Government agencies in Ecuador are closed to celebrate the national holiday of Carnaval, a Catholic holiday immediately before Lent marked by massive street celebrations. Officials there have not issued a statement on the ruling. Meanwhile, the Ecuadoreans' spokesman Han Shan indicated that the defendants who are not U.S. citizens intend to ignore the ruling. The New York and Washington-based lawyers in the defense team also plan to appeal to the 2nd Circuit.
Tuesday's ruling marks a long-anticipated coda to a major phase of litigation that has spanned two decades and three continents.
Its roots in 1993 took shape when indigenous Ecuadoreans and farmers brought a federal suit against Chevron's predecessor Texaco in New York, alleging extensive environmental and public health damages in the Amazon. Chevron brought about the next front of litigation eight years later by taking the case to a court in the Ecuadorean city of Lago Agrio, where the drilling occurred.
A judge there ordered Chevron to pay billions on Feb. 14, 2011.
Days before that verdict, Chevron sued the lawyers, plaintiffs and associates involved in that case back in New York, claiming their adversaries extorted them by bribing a judge and fixing the scientific studies.
The Ecuadoreans repeatedly and unsuccessfully sought to recuse Kaplan for alleged bias and obtained a minor win in early 2012 when the 2nd Circuit invalidated Kaplan's first injunction as "radical."