Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Federal Judge Asked To Stay Case Over $19 Billion Ecuador Judgment

A New York federal judge long accused of bias against Ecuadorian rainforest residents over a $19B pollution case is continuing to allow Chevron to “systematically harass” two victims of its toxic pollution and their long-time New York lawyer, according to new motions filed in recent days.

The lawyer, Steven R. Donziger, asked Judge Lewis A. Kaplan to grant a three-month stay to prevent the case from degenerating into a “mockery” where unrepresented defendants are fighting hundreds of Chevron lawyers and are barred by the court from mounting a basic defense using evidence of Chevron’s pollution and corrupt acts in Ecuador. The motion is available here.

“This is an extraordinary situation where the evidence suggests that a federal judge is allowing a major oil company to crush its critics by denying them a defense and overwhelming them with abusive legal tactics to drive up their costs, making it virtually impossible for them to obtain counsel,” said Donziger.

“Judge Kaplan is now allowing Chevron to pursue litigation over litigation over litigation,” said Donziger. “It’s unprecedented and offensive.”

In the motion seeking the stay, Donziger outlined for Judge Kaplan how he is now litigating alone (pro se) against at least 114 lawyers from Chevron’s lead outside firm in a case with millions of pages of discovery documents, a privilege log that is 15,000 pages long, and close to 1,200 docket entries. Chevron also disclosed that it has well over 100 private investigators working on the case, some of who have conducted secret surveillance of the plaintiffs and their lawyers to intimidate them, said Donziger.

Despite the request for a stay, Judge Kaplan is allowing 14 depositions in three weeks, with the first starting tomorrow and the last – of Chevron’s CEO, John Watson – scheduled for June 27. Kaplan also is allowing Chevron to depose Donziger for another two days on top of the 16 days he already testified in 2010 and 2011.

“This compressed schedule is a per se violation of my due process rights,” said Donziger. “There is simply not enough time to adequately prepare to take depositions, to defend myself in my own deposition, review millions of pages of discovery, and also search for substitute counsel,” he said.

Chevron previously identified roughly 2,000 legal personnel and 60 law firms who have worked on the case. An affidavit from a former FBI agent describing some of the surveillance of Donziger can be found here. Kaplan is also allowing Chevron to hide the identities of three Ecuadorian witnesses against the Ecuadorians and Donziger, a blatant violation of their due process rights that a prior lawyer likened to tactics used by courts in the Spanish Inquisition.

In his papers, Donziger said that he has never tried a federal case and that he needed time to procure a new lawyer in the face of a “concerted effort” by Chevron to interfere with his right to counsel.

He disclosed evidence that Chevron has now filed civil suits against four different law firms and one funder who have supported the Ecuadorians, falsely claiming they are part of a “conspiracy” to extort money. Donziger also took aim at Randy Mastro, Chevron’s lead lawyer from Gibson Dunn, for making false public statements to the media about the case to “scare off” supporters. (For background on how Mastro and Gibson Dunn have committed ethical violations behalf of Chevron, see here.)

Donziger’s former counsel, famed San Francisco-based trial lawyer John Keker, withdrew from the case two weeks ago because Donziger could not pay his fees. On his way out, Keker took the unusual step of publicly criticizing Judge Kaplan for letting the case degenerate into a “Dickensian farce” due to Chevron’s abusive litigation tactics.

“Through scorched earth litigation, executed by its army of hundreds of lawyers, Chevron is using its limitless resources to crush defendants and win this case though might rather than merit,” Keker said in his motion to withdraw. “Encouraged by this court’s implacable hostility toward Donziger, Chevron will file any motion, however meritless, in the hope that the Court will use it to hurt Donziger.”

Keker also said his firm “would be proud” to represent Donziger at trial if it could get the resources. “We are confident that were we to do so, we would prevail,” Keker said.

Donziger also called on Judge Kaplan to allow him and the Ecuadorians sufficient latitude to develop a defense via questioning of key Chevron witnesses, including CEO Watson, Deputy General Counsel Edward Scott, and Rhonda Zyglocki, who used to head Chevron’s lobbying and governmental affairs division. All are scheduled to be deposed this month.

Judge Kaplan also appointed – over the objection of Donziger – his former law partner, Max Gitter, as a Special Master to make rulings during depositions. Gitter, who has a history of bias against the Ecuadorians and Donziger, works at a large corporate law firm in New York City and bills at his standard hourly rates, which include $630 per hour for an associate to assist him.

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