After nearly 20 years of defending itself against charges that its drilling operations in the Amazon jungle in Ecuador caused all manner of environmental damage, pollution, and disruption and dissolution of the cultures of the natives in the area, Chevron Corporation decided to go on the offensive. On Tuesday, October 22, Chevron, the 11th-largest corporation in Fortune magazine’s Global 500, sued Steven Donziger, the leading attorney in a series of lawsuits going back to 1993, for fraud and bribery used to obtain a $19-billion damage award against Chevron from an Ecuadorian judge.
A spokesman for Chevron, Morgan Crinklaw, said the federal court in New York must rule in favor of the company because “we believe that any jurisdiction that observes the rule of law will find that the [Ecuadorian] judgment is illegal and unenforceable because it’s a product of fraud.”
While the trial is expected to last several weeks, key testimony from Donziger himself will be used by Chevron to prove its case and disallow the huge judgment. That testimony, according to another Chevron attorney, Ted Boutrous, will show that the case against Donziger will prove to be “one of the most egregious litigation frauds in history.”
The case had its genesis just after Donziger graduated from Harvard Law School in 1991, along with classmate and fellow basketball player Barack Obama. Looking for work, Donziger was invited by another classmate, Cristobal Bonifaz, to join him in filing a lawsuit against Texaco for allegedly causing environmental damage near the Ecuadorian town of Lago Agrio stemming from oil-drilling activities dating back to 1967. After visiting the area in person, Donziger realized he could satisfy two longings by joining Bonifaz in suing Texaco: He could indulge his desire to promote the environmental movement, and he could make himself wealthy in the process.
Patrick Radden Keefe, in a lengthy exposé of Donziger in the New Yorker in 2012, traced Donziger’s trail from Lago Agrio in 1993 to the U.S. District Courthouse in New York in May 2011 when Judge Lewis Kaplan demanded that Donziger release all his personal records to Chevron as it built its case against him. It’s been downhill for Donziger ever since.
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