Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A "Slap in the Face" for Ecuadorians Pursuing Justice Against Chevron

Late Monday, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the enforcement of a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron Corp. over environmental damage in Ecuador's Amazon region.

The ruling is outrageous for several reasons, which we will get to below. First, we should note there are serious reservations about Judge Kaplan’s impartiality in this case. Mike G over at the Understory (Rainforest Action Network's official blog) noted this concerning Judge Kaplan's bias in Chevron's favor:

In addition to being biased in Chevron’s favor, Kaplan allegedly encouraged Chevron to file the RICO suit in the first place. At a September hearing, Kaplan said, “Now, do the phrases Hobbs Act, extortion, RICO, have any bearing here?”— obviously signaling that he’d be willing to hear such allegations made in his courtroom. As Donziger’s brief says, ”It is no wonder that Chevron would seek to have the [RICO suit] assigned to the very judge who invited and encouraged its instigation.”
Kaplan wrote to the U.S. State Department requesting input on the implications of Chevron’s RICO suit for international relations with Ecuador, but the State Dept. replied with a big fat “No comment.” Translation: You and Chevron are on your own, Kaplan.

It appears now that Kaplan has delivered for Chevron. As mentioned above, late yesterday evening he issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the enforcement of $9.5 billion dollar judgment against Chevron for being responsible for one of the world’s worst environmental disasters in Ecuadorian Amazon. Karen Hinton’s statement on behalf of Amazon Defense Coalition laid out why the decision was a “slap in the face” for Ecuadorians pursuing justice:

“This decision is a slap in the face to the democratic nation of Ecuador and the thousands of Ecuadorian citizens who have courageously fought for 18 years to hold Chevron accountable for committing the world's worst environmental disaster. The trampling of due process in the court’s refusal to consider key evidence or hold a hearing to determine the facts is an inappropriate exercise of judicial power that will harm the United States’ relationship with Latin America and other parts of the world. It disregards the scholarly and comprehensive 188-page opinion of Ecuadorian Judge Nicolas Zambrano, a well-respected member of Ecuador's judiciary. It also ignores key evidence that Chevron has committed a series of frauds in Ecuador to cover up its unlawful misconduct.
"We want to emphasize that after appeals in Ecuador the Ecuadorian plaintiffs retain their full right to lawfully enforce the judgment of their own country's courts in any of the dozens of nations around the world where Chevron has assets. In the meantime, we will appeal the decision on multiple grounds."

To stay up to date on the developments in this story, please make sure to follow us on Twitter @chevronpit and also keep an eye on ChevronToxico.com.