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Ecuador Plaintiffs, Steven Donziger, Committed Fraud against Chevron in Ecuador Case

Berlinger and Donziger

Joe Berlinger’s (left) Film “Crude,” paid for by Ecuador Plaintiff Attorney Steven Donziger, ultimately led to a crushing victory for Chevron Corporation in the Ecuador Case

Chevron Corporation won a major victory today when a New York federal judge ruled that the case against the oil company in Ecuador was procured by fraud.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in New York found that lead plaintiff attorney Steven Donziger used bribery, coercion, fraud and other illegal means to create a fraudulent case against Chevron in Ecuador.

Donziger, whose fraudulent lawsuit was supported by environmental organizations such as AmazonWatch in San Francisco, Rainforest Action Network, Earthrights International, and other alleged environmental groups, might have gotten away with the crime if it were not for the sloppy work of Hollywood movie director Joe Berlinger.

Berlinger, who was paid by the plaintiffs to produce a film that lambasted Chevron for alleged pollution in Ecuador, ultimately and ironically, became Chevron’s savior.

Berlinger’s movie “Crude” produced evidence that led Chevron to its important court victory today in New York.

In making his ruling, Judge Kaplan  said Donziger and the Ecuador plaintiffs used “corrupt means” to secure a multi-billion-dollar pollution judgment against Chevron Corp in Ecuador, giving a major setback for attorneys hoping to collect on the award.

Kaplan said he found “clear and convincing evidence” that attorney Steven Donziger’s legal team bribed an Ecuadorean judge to issue an $18 billion judgment against the oil company in 2011.

The villagers had said Texaco, later acquired by Chevron, contaminated an oil field in northeastern Ecuador between 1964 and 1992.  Ecuador’s high court cut the judgment to $9.5 billion last year.

Kaplan’s decision bars Donziger and environmental groups like AmazonWatch and public relations agent Karen Hinton from enforcing the Ecuadorean ruling in the United States. It may also give Chevron legal ammunition in other countries where the plaintiffs could try to go after Chevron’s assets.

At a six-week trial last year, Chevron accused Donziger of fraud and racketeering and said Texaco cleaned up the site, known as Lago Agrio, before handing it over to a state-controlled entity.

Below is the full text of U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan’s opening judgement today against Steven Donziger and the Ecuador plaintiffs:

“Steven Donziger, a New York City lawyer, led a group of American and Ecuadorian lawyers who brought an action in Ecuador (the “Lago Agrio” case) in the names of 47 plaintiffs (the“Lago Agrio Plaintiffs” or “LAPs”), on behalf of thousands of indigenous peoples of the Orienté region of Ecuador, against Chevron Corporation (“Chevron”).

They claimed that Chevron was responsible for extensive environmental damage caused by oil activities of Texaco, Inc. (“Texaco”), that ended more than twenty years ago and long before Chevron acquired Texaco’s stock.

After years of pressuring Chevron to settle by a variety of both legitimate and illegitimate means, Donziger and his clients obtained a multibillion dollar judgment (the“Judgment”) in the Ecuadorian courts and now seek to enforce it around the world.

Chevron then brought this action, contending among other things that the Judgment was procured by fraud.  Following a full trial, it now seeks equitable relief against Donziger and the two of his Ecuadorian clients who defended this case in order to prevent any of them from profiting from the alleged fraud or from seeking to enforce the Judgment in the United States.

This case is extraordinary. The facts are many and sometimes complex. They include things that normally come only out of Hollywood – coded emails among Donziger and his colleagues describing their private interactions with and machinations directed at judges and a court appointed expert, their payments to a supposedly neutral expert out of a secret account, a lawyer who invited a film crew to innumerable private strategy meetings and even to ex parte meetings with judges, an Ecuadorian judge who claims to have written the multibillion dollar decision but who was so inexperienced and uncomfortable with civil cases that he had someone else (a former judge who had been removed from the bench) draft some civil decisions for him, an 18-year old typist who supposedly did Internet research in American, English, and French law for the same judge, who knew only Spanish, and much more. The evidence is voluminous.

The transnational elements of the case make it sensitive and challenging. Nevertheless, the Court has had the benefit of a lengthy trial. It has heard 31 witnesses in person and considered deposition and/or other sworn or, in one instance, stipulated testimony of 37 others. It has considered thousands of exhibits. It has made its findings, which of necessity are lengthy and detailed.

Upon consideration of all of the evidence, including the credibility of the witnesses– though several of the most important declined to testify – the Court finds that Donziger began his involvement in this controversy with a desire to improve conditions in the area in which his Ecuadorian clients live. To be sure, he sought also to do well for himself while doing good for others, but there was nothing wrong with that. In the end, however, he and the Ecuadorian lawyers he led corrupted the Lago Agrio case.

They submitted fraudulent evidence. They coerced one judge, first to use a court-appointed, supposedly impartial, “global expert” to make an overall damages assessment and, then, to appoint to that important role a man whom Donziger hand-picked and paid to “totally play ball” with the LAPs.

They then paid a Colorado consulting firm secretly to write all or most of the global expert’s report, falsely presented the report as the work of the court-appointed and supposedly impartial expert, and told half-truths or worse to U.S. courts in attempts to prevent exposure of that and other wrongdoing. Ultimately, the LAP team wrote the Lago Agrio court’s Judgment themselves and promised $500,000 to the Ecuadorian judge to rule in their favor and sign their judgment. If ever there were a case warranting equitable relief with respect to a judgment procured by fraud, this is it.

The defendants seek to avoid responsibility for their actions by emphasizing that the Lago Agrio case took place in Ecuador and by invoking the principle of comity. But that warrants no different conclusion.

Comity and respect for other nations are important. But comity does not command blind acquiescence in injustice, least of all acquiescence within the bounds of our own nation.

Courts of equity long have granted relief against fraudulent judgments entered in other states and, though less frequently, other countries. Moreover, the United States has important interests here. The misconduct at issue was planned, supervised, financed and executed in important (but not all) respects by Americans in the United States in order to extract money from a U.S. victim.

That said, considerations of comity and the avoidance of any misunderstanding have shaped the relief sought here. Chevron no longer seeks, and this Court does not grant, an injunction barring enforcement of the Lago Agrio Judgment anywhere in the world.

What this Court does do is to prevent Donziger and the two LAP Representatives, who are subject to this Court’s personal jurisdiction, from profiting in any way from the egregious fraud that occurred here. That is quite a different matter. Indeed, the LAP Representatives’ lawyer recently conceded before the Second Circuit that the defendants “would not have a problem” with “the alternative relief that [Chevron] would be seeking, such as enjoining the person who paid the bribe from benefitting from it,” assuming that the judge was bribed.

Defendants thus have acknowledged the propriety of equitable relief to prevent individuals subject to the Court’s jurisdiction from benefitting from misdeeds for which they are responsible. And while the Court does enjoin enforcement of the Judgment by these defendants in the United States, that limited injunction raises no issues of comity or international relations. It is the prerogative of American courts to determine whether foreign judgments may be no different conclusion.

Comity and respect for other nations are important. But comity does not command blind acquiescence in injustice, least of all acquiescence within the bounds of our own nation.

Courts of equity long have granted relief against fraudulent judgments entered in other states and, though less frequently, other countries. Moreover, the United States has important interests here.  The misconduct at issue was planned, supervised, financed and executed in important (but not all) respects by Americans in the United States in order to extract money from a U.S. victim.

That said, considerations of comity and the avoidance of any misunderstanding have shaped the relief sought here. Chevron no longer seeks, and this Court does not grant, an injunction barring enforcement of the Lago Agrio Judgment anywhere in the world.

What this Court does do is to prevent Donziger and the two LAP Representatives, who are subject to this Court’s personal jurisdiction, from profiting in any way from the egregious fraud that occurred here. That is quite a different matter. Indeed, the LAP Representatives’ lawyer recently conceded before the Second Circuit that the defendants “would not have a problem” with “the alternative relief that [Chevron] would be seeking, such as enjoining the person who paid the bribe from benefitting from it,” assuming that the judge was bribed.1

Defendants thus have acknowledged the propriety of equitable relief to prevent individuals subject to the Court’s jurisdiction from benefitting from misdeeds for which they are responsible. And while the Court does enjoin enforcement of the Judgment by these defendants in the United States, that limited injunction raises no issues of comity or international relations. It is the prerogative of American courts to determine whether foreign judgments may be laws of any nation that aspires to the rule of law, including Ecuador – and they knew it. Indeed, one Ecuadorian legal team member, in a moment of panicky candor, admitted that if documents exposing just part of what they had done were to come to light, “apart from destroying the proceeding, all of us, your attorneys, might go to jail.”2

It is time to face the facts.”

Link to the judgement: http://tinyurl.com/o8p6gve

 

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Patton Boggs’ Partner James Tyrrell, Jr., Lied to Burford Capital in Chevron Ecuador Litigation

 

 

James E. Tyrrell, Jr.: Liar says Burford Investment Company

 

In the latest in a series of bombshell filings, Chevron today submitted a 26-page sworn declaration from the CEO of Burford Capital, a $300 million, publicly traded fund that in late 2010 agreed to finance Patton Boggs’s representation of the plaintiffs bringing an environmental suit against Chevron in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.

 

In it Burford CEO Christopher Bogart says his firm would never have invested in the case were it not for “false and misleading representations” made not only by Steve Donziger, the Lago Agrio team’s longtime New York lawyer, but also by Patton Boggs, a prominent Washington-based, AmLaw 100 law firm that agreed to take on the plaintiffs’ troubled environmental suit in February 2010 on a partial contingency basis. (Read the full declaration here.)

 

Burford relied on a misleading analysis of the case made by Patton Boggs partner James Tyrrell, Jr., with whom, Bogart says, Burford had a “‘special’ and multifaceted relationship” at the time. Most of the misrepresentations Bogart alleges concern the extent to which Patton Boggs already knew that a crucial damages assessment drafted by a purportedly “neutral and independent” court-appointed expert in the case had, in reality, been secretly ghost-written by the Lago Agrio plaintiffs lawyers themselves.

 

Emails seeking comment from Tyrrell and other Patton Boggs attorneys were not immediately returned. Nor were emails to Donziger’s counsel, John Keker (who is in a court proceeding this morning).

 

Lago Agrio plaintiff team’s spokesperson, Bill Hamilton of Fenton Communications said that “in the final analysis, this … is just more of Chevron’s non-stop Big Money attempt to intimidate and malign the Lago Agrio plaintiffs and their lawyers and supporters. It has no bearing on what happened in Ecuador, does nothing to remediate the harm that even Chevron has admitted took place in the Amazon and constitutes a side show that will not stop efforts to attach Chevron properties in Argentina, Canada, Brazil, and around the world.” He asserted that Burford’s allegation of misconduct by the plaintiffs is “at its core, just a dispute about money.”)

 

Because an Ecuadorian provincial court issued an $18.2 billion judgment against Chevron in February 2011 — later bumped up to $19 billion—Patton Boggs theoretically stands to collect hundreds of millions of dollars if the judgment can ever be enforced. The plaintiffs’ team is currently attempting to enforce it foreign courts, including those of Canada and Argentina.

 

Chevron is currently considering whether to bring fraud charges against Patton Boggs, the company stated in a Manhattan federal court filing Friday, and will make up its mind by May 10.

On October 31, 2010, Burford gave the plaintiffs $4 million in financing as the first tranche in what was planned to become a $15 million investment in the case. In exchange it received a 1.5% stake of any recovery, which was to rise to a 5.5% stake upon full funding.

But on February 1, 2011, Chevron (CVX) filed a civil RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) suit in Manhattan federal court against Donziger, the Amazon Defense Fund, and others key figures involved in the Lago Agrio case, alleging wire fraud, extortion, money laundering, and obstruction of justice. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan issued a preliminary injunction in March in a 131-page, 434-footnote ruling that detailed the disturbing state of the evidence against Donziger and his Ecuadorian collegues on the case at the time. (The injunction was later vacated on appeal jurisdictional grounds unrelated to Kaplan’s factual findings.) Burford never made any follow-up investments.

 

Although Burford quickly resold most of its stake in the case in December 2010, it retained until today an upside interest in the outcome of the lawsuit. With today’s settlement, however, Burford turns that remaining stake over to Chevron. In this morning’s joint press release, Bogart says, “Burford stands by its clients in the face of aggressive litigation tactics by their opponents, but Burford does not sit still for being deceived or defrauded and has no interest in profiting from such conduct.”

 

In Bogart’s affidavit he argues that Burford was especially inclined to credit Tyrrell’s assessments of the case because of Tyrrell’s “special relationship” with the firm. To begin with, he writes, Tyrrell was, as a former partner at Latham & Watkins, close friends of four former Latham partners who then occupied senior positions at Burford.

 

“Tyrrell was also an advocate and enthusiast of litigation funding,” Bogart continues, extending “support to start-up funders.” For instance, Patton Boggs was providing Burford with rent-free office space at its New York office, which Tyrrell heads, at the time the Lago Agrio investment was negotiated, Bogart writes.

 

Last month Judge Kaplan ordered Patton Boggs to make voluminous productions of documents, finding that any attorney client privilege that might apply would be pierced due to the “crime fraud exception,” which applies when there is evidence that documents were made in furtherance of a crime or fraud. Though Judge Kaplan made no finding as to whether Patton Boggs itself had any actual knowledge of any crime or fraud, his 73-page ruling was tart in its rejection of the firm’s portrayal of itself as an unrelated outsider who, if it complied with the subpoena, would be forced to incur excessive and burdensome costs.

 

He wrote: “Here, [Patton Boggs] was well aware of Chevron’s fraud allegations when it joined the [Lago Agrio plaintiffs] team — indeed it was brought on to combat them — and understood Chevron’s intention to fight this matter vigorously. Any failure to have anticipated that its involvement could lead to discovery obligations and expenditures on its own behalf, if there was such a failure, would have reflected an uncommon lack of foresight.”

 

Burford’s investment in the controversial case — which, like most such investments, remained secret until disclosed through ancillary U.S. litigation brought by Chevron — was the subject of a May 2011 Fortune feature story which had been highly critical of the investment firm. (See Have you got a piece of this lawsuit?)

While at least four federal court judges had already found “prima facie” evidence of fraud by the plaintiffs team at the time Burford invested, the quality and quantity of that evidence has strengthened geometrically since the filing of Chevron’s RICO case. Last July U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan ruled that “uncontradicted evidence” showed that the case had been “unquestionably … tainted” by this fraud. (See Chevron claims Patton Boggs tried to cover up a fraud)

 

In addition, Chevron has now also presented in its RICO case substantial evidence indicating that the entire 188-page, $18.2 billion judgment ruling was ghostwritten by the Ecuadorian plaintiffs lawyers themselves — an opportunity that was allegedly accorded to them after they agreed to pay two Ecuadorian judges $500,000 from the anticipated recovery. Chevron has shown, for instance, that at least one third of the judgment contains material that was lifted from internal plaintiffs memoranda that were never made part of the record in the case, and it has submitted an extensively corroborated affidavit from one of the two Ecuadorian judges in question.

 

(In reply, the Lago Agrio plaintiffs team submitted an unnotarized declaration from the other former judge, the titular author of the ruling, Nicolas Zambrano. In it Zambrano says he wrote the ruling himself and denies having accepted any bribe offer. But the Lago Agrio plaintiffs team has also indicated that Zambrano will probably refuse to submit to a deposition backing up his claim, rendering his declaration’s legal value dubious. Further, in his declaration Zambrano makes no attempt to explain away the voluminous corroborating evidence of ghostwriting that Chevron has submitted.

 

Similarly, in a terse, carefully worded affidavit the Lago Agrio plaintiffs’ chief U.S. lawyer Donziger has denied personal involvement in or knowledge of bribery or ghostwriting of the judgment, but has not denied that bribery and ghostwriting may have occurred. The other Amazon Defense Front defendants have defaulted by failing to appear in the RICO suit.)

 

Finally, just last week, the plaintiffs team’s environmental experts, Stratus Consulting of Boulder, Colo., recanted all its scientific findings and conclusions in the case in exchange for being dropped as a defendant in the RICO suit. Its officials expressed regret for having “allowed the firm to be used the way it was.” (The Lago Agrio plaintiffs say Chevron “bullied” Stratus into the recantation by threatening it with “financial extinction.”)

 

By Roger Parloff, senior editor, Fortune Magazine

 

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