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Chevron v. the trial lawyers and environmental 'heroes'

Roger Parloff, legal analyst at Fortune, has done an estimable job of summarizing recent developments in the U.S. contingency-fee litigation against Chevron claiming environmental damage in Ecuador. From his Legal Pad report, "Evidence of fraud mounts in Ecuadorian suit against Chevron":

FORTUNE -- A lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador, which has become a cause célèbre for environmentalists worldwide, has suffered severe, crippling setbacks in recent months, as key plaintiffs lawyers have come under credible and weighty allegations of fraud....

Over the past ten months, Chevron's outside lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher have filed 11 civil actions in federal courts across the United States, each designed to pull back the curtain on what they say is an elaborate, two-year-long charade in which plaintiffs lawyers covertly planned and ghostwrote a crucial report on damages that was ostensibly being authored by an independent expert appointed as an "auxiliary" to the Ecuadorian court. The expert's final report, issued in November 2008, recommended that Chevron pay the plaintiffs $27.3 billion.

The civil actions are "1782 motions" (28 U.S.C. 1782) to obtain evidence and depositions from parties involved with the litigation in Ecuador. The San Francisco Chronicle -- Chevron is based in Richmond, Calif. -- also hits on the issues in a recent piece, "Chevron keeps up pressure in Ecuador suit."

Elsewhere, The Harvard International Law Journal -- does one add the qualifier "prestigious?" -- recently turned over its pages to Pablo Fajardo, the Ecuadorian lawyer who often serves as the public face of the anti-Chevron litigation, a symposium piece, "Corporate Accountability, Human Rights and Pursuing Justice in the Ecuadorian Amazon: Attorney Pablo Fajardo's Perspective on Aguinda v. Chevron."

Fajardo has been lionized as a human rights and environmental hero, a brave man fighting the U.S. exploiter. In 2008, he received the Goldman Environmental Prize; in 2007 he won the "CNN Hero Award" in the "Fighting for Justice" category.

Good PR, to be sure. Here's context about Fajardo not included in the law journal, from a motion filed Aug. 3 by Chevron in U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, asking for a preservation of evidence.

Relying on outtakes from the film, "Crude," the attorneys report on a March 2007 meeting with Fajaro, his Ecuadorian colleague Luis Yanza and Steven Donziger, the U.S. trial lawyer leading the suit.

This meeting occurred two weeks before the Lago Agrio court appointed Cabrera as its "neutral" and "independent" court auxiliary to conduct an "Examen Pericial Global " or "Peritaje Global" (both translated as "Global Expert Assessment"), but the participants at the meeting already knew that the court was going to appoint Cabrera as its Global Expert and referred to him as such. See Ex. F at
189-00-02, 191-00-03. Donziger, Fajardo, and their associate Luis Yanza of the Frente and Selva Viva, are shown in the footage leading the meeting, with Fajardo presenting a PowerPoint detailing their "Plan Para el Examen Pericial Global," i.e., their plans for carrying out the official duties that the court would soon appoint Cabrera to perform. Although the cameramen obviously attempt to avoid filming Cabrera, he can be seen in the margins of the screen. Id. When the discussion turns to plans for drafting Cabrera's report, Fajardo tells the assembled group that the expert is going to "sign the report and review it. But all of us . . . have to contribute to the report." Id. at 187-01-02-12. Toward the end of the portion of the meeting shown on film. Donziger brags: "We could jack this thing up to $30 billion . . . in one day." Id. at 193-00-01.

And here's a transcript from a separate discussion, in which Fajardo describes meeting with Ecuador President Rafael Correa to discuss pressuring the Prosecutor General's office to throw out an agreement between Texaco and the Ecuadorian government that determined Texaco -- later purchased by Chevron -- had remediated the Amazon oil fields to the government's satisfaction.

How heroic.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Katherine Lazarski
Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.