"Victim," in fact, is the very word that Chevron's top lawyer Randy Mastro used to describe the oil company in a phone interview.
A fitting adversary for Donziger, Mastro works for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a firm that filed similar claims of lack of due process and judicial corruption in the case of Sanchez Osario et al v. Dole Food Company et al., a case Donziger cites as the genesis of its "turning tables" strategy.
Shorter than Donziger, Mastro sports carefully groomed facial hair where his opponent is clean-shaven. Mastro speaks in a rapid-fire voice peppered with gravel and indignation that likely served him well in his former role as a mob prosecutor.
Mastro detailed his experiences in charge of the prosecution team that filed civil racketeering charges against the Teamsters in the Southern District of New York, leading to the issuance of a consent decree that forced the union to clean up shop. He said that he also played a role in ridding the Fulton Fish Market and Little Italy's San Gennero's festival of La Cosa Nostra, favors for which he says he received death threats.
Set against Chevron's racketeering claims against Donziger, Mastro's résumé helped cultivate a media-generated rivalry between the two men. Donziger wrote in his original witness statement that he awaited "the esteemed Mr. Mastro's highly anticipated cross-examination," and Mastro ended his questioning with the rhetorical flourish, "Mr. Donziger, I have nothing further for you."
Insisting their courtroom matchup is "not personal," Mastro said he was driven by "seeing that justice is done."
"I give Chevron a tremendous amount of credit for the strong stand it's taken," he said. "Instead of being shaken down, it stood up."
Donziger testified in his witness statement that is not quite true because Chevron sat down at the settlement table three times to discuss a resolution of the case, and these talks undermined the company's claim to have been defrauded.
When asked about this, Mastro replied: "I'm not going to comment on that because lawyers are not supposed to comment on whether or not settlement talks occurred."
Before hanging up to work on closing arguments in what he called the "shocking, sordid tale" of this case, Mastro nevertheless disputed that Donziger's account represented an "accurate recitation" of the events. The closing remarks are expected as early as Tuesday.
To be sure, Chevron collected some ammunition from its years-long probe into the confidential files of Donziger and his colleagues, but the Ecuadoreans claim that these materials were taken out of context. Mastro recently highlighted a once-privileged email to Donziger that refers to an Ecuadorean judge as a "cook" and a scientific expert as a "waiter," or alternately, the "Waoa." Chevron dubs these as "code words," but Donziger downplayed them as humorous "nicknames."
The author of this email was Pablo Fajardo, the lead attorney in Ecuador who battled Chevron in court.
Fajardo confirmed in an email that the "Waoa" in his message indeed referred to Richard Cabrera, a court-appointed expert who looms as a controversial figure in the case. He said that he gave Cabrera this name, which is the singular form of Huaorani, to liken him to the characteristics of this tribe.
"Cabrera is a strong man, capable of resisting all of the attacks, offenses, insults, persecutions, and a warrior who does his work honestly," Fajardo wrote from Ecuador in Spanish.
Donziger and his associates have now conceded that Cabrera served as their paid expert whose report was authored in part by a Colorado-based firm that they personally retained: Stratus Consulting, who were originally scheduled to testify for their former adversaries at Chevron but never ultimately took the stand.
Whereas Chevron calls this an admission of ghostwriting, the Ecuadoreans attribute this to a cultural difference between its legal system and the one in the United States. They contend that Ecuadorean law permits court-appointed expert to serve and be paid by one side while exercising independent judgment, and Chevron refused to participate in this process. They also note that the final judgment, signed by Judge Nicolas Zambrano, expressly disavowed Cabrera's report and stated that it relied upon Chevron's data.
Chevron alleges that this verdict was also ghostwritten by Judge Alberto Guerra, in exchange for bribes that he claims Donziger authorized.
Donziger emphatically denied that charge on the witness stand. "I would never do that," he said. "Whatever money we had would not be used to bribe a judge."
Guerra has acknowledged accepting tens of thousands of dollars in cash from a Chevron lawyer in a suitcase and entering into a contract with the company that includes at least $326,000, the services of an immigration lawyer and a car.
Donziger said this should have been enough for Guerra's allegations to be "laughed out of federal court," but he said he was uncertain that it would happen in the court of U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is hearing the case without a jury. Donziger and his colleagues have repeatedly accused Kaplan of bias against them and have indicated that the current case in New York can largely serve as a preview for an appellate battle to follow.
The 2nd Circuit threw out two of Kaplan's decisions related to an earlier version of Chevron's lawsuit, but they rejected attempts to boot him off the case. Appellate court arguments are expected to center on whether any New York judge has jurisdiction to hear a case over whether an Ecuadorean judgment is collectible outside the United States. Chevron wants Kaplan's verdict to fend off actions against their assets in Canada, Brazil and Argentina.
Meanwhile, Donziger said he relied on family to keep his spirits up. The lawyer often sports two colorful, rubber bracelets that he says his son made him. He mentioned that he took up yoga months after Chevron filed its claims against him and that he since worked on his practice in more than 15 cities where he has had to travel for the case.
Donziger said he thinks on his time in Nicaragua to keep his legal troubles in perspective, recounting a time when he asked workers about freshly dug graves with no apparent corpses to fill them.
"Oh, there's a war," Donziger recalled them telling him. "We're going to have to use these graves." He said he lived a part of his time there with a family from the provincial town of Esteli, in a house with a "beautifully manicured dirt floor." His voice turned uncharacteristically somber, as he added that he was not being ironic about this phrasing.
"I have that experience from being in other places seeing what real sacrifice is like, and it's not what I'm going through," he said. "That's not to downplay what I am going through because, believe me, it's stressful, but I have perspective. Compared to other times and other places, it's much worse than this."
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