Chevron Corp., the second-largest U.S. energy company, can subpoena an American attorney working for Ecuadorean villagers suing the company in a multibillion dollar environmental pollution case, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan yesterday denied a request by New York attorney Steven Donziger and plaintiffs in the lawsuit in Ecuador to block a subpoena by company lawyers seeking testimony and documents.
Kaplan said the evidence he reviewed, including outtakes from the documentary film “Crude,” showed that Donziger’s “principal functions” in events in Ecuador “have included lobbying, media and press relations, and politics.”
“Donziger’s role at least in major respects is that of a political operative, not a lawyer,” Kaplan said in his ruling.
Chevron is fighting a lawsuit in Ecuador over the effects of wastewater discharges from Texaco Inc.’s oil operations that occurred more than 20 years ago in the Amazon basin. The company said it needs to gather evidence to prove lawyers for plaintiffs improperly influenced the findings of a court-appointed expert who estimated billions of dollars in damages owed by Chevron, according to court filings. Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001.
Lawyers for the Ecuadoreans deny wrongdoing. Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for the Amazon Defense Front, which is involved in representing Ecuadoreans in the lawsuit, said the group disagrees with Kaplan’s decision.
“Chevron now seeks to use its false allegations to pry open all private communications between lawyers and their clients for the entire 17-year duration of this litigation,” Hinton said in an e-mailed statement.
‘Fraud and Corruption’
“Chevron is confident that the evidence obtained in this process will provide additional proof of the fraud and corruption perpetrated by Mr. Donziger and his associates in the trial against Chevron in Ecuador,” Justin Higgs, a Chevron spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement.
The lawsuit in Ecuador was brought by Amazon Basin residents who claim the company is responsible for pollution and illness caused by toxic waste from oil drilling in the jungle from 1964 to 1990 or later. The pollution was allegedly left by Texaco, according to the complaint. Chevron has denied wrongdoing.
The case is in a court in Lago Agrio, a town 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of the Colombia border and near the former Texaco oil fields. Donziger has been counsel to the Amazon residents since 1993. A ruling in the case is expected early next year.
The subpoena case is In re Application of Chevron Corp., 10-00002, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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