Chevron Judge Denies Ecuadoreans’ Request for Trial Delay

Chevron Corp.’s civil racketeering case against Ecuadoreans it accuses of fabricating evidence to win a $19 billion verdict in a pollution lawsuit will go to trial on Oct. 15, a judge said in rejecting a defense request for a delay.

Chevron sued Ecuadoreans who had earlier claimed the San Ramon, California-based company was responsible for pollution in the Amazon rainforest. The company said the Ecuadoreans and their New York-based lawyer, Steven Donziger, made up evidence in the initial case. The trial will be held in Manhattan federal court.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan today denied Donziger’s request to delay the trial in order to find a new attorney. Kaplan said Donziger has had four months to hire a new lawyer since his prior counsel, John Keker, asked to leave the case because he hadn’t been paid.

“It is unclear whether he has money to pay counsel but chooses not to spend it, or whether he in fact does not have” money, Kaplan said of Donziger in a written opinion. Donziger “has offered no competent evidence of his financial situation,” the judge said.

Chevron was ordered by an Ecuadorean court in 2011 to pay as much as $18.2 billion in damages for Texaco’s alleged dumping of toxic drilling waste in the jungle from 1964 to about 1992. Chevron acquired Texaco in 2000.

$19 Billion

The judgment came in an 18-year lawsuit decided by a judge in Lago Agrio, a provincial capital near the Colombian border. With interest, the judgment is now worth $19 billion.

Chevron denied wrongdoing, saying Texaco cleaned up its share of pollution at oil fields that were later taken over PetroEcuador, Ecuador’s state-owned oil company. Chevron says it was released from liability by an agreement between Texaco and Ecuador.

In denying the defense request to postpone the October trial, Kaplan today said the Ecuadorean plaintiffs are still financing litigation in courts around the world.

Donziger and the plaintiffs claim they “are out of money,” Kaplan said. “To the contrary, the record establishes that they have raised millions of dollars in exchange for shares of any recovery.”

Claims Influence

Chevron accuses Donziger of improperly influencing a court expert whose findings were relied upon by the judge in Ecuador.

Donziger denies wrongdoing, and plaintiffs in the pollution case said the company is attacking him to avoid paying damages.

Bill Hamilton of Fenton Communications, a spokesman for the Ecuadorean plaintiffs, declined to comment on Kaplan’s ruling.

“We look forward to detailing the extent of fraud and misconduct carried out by the plaintiffs and their U.S.-based lawyers at trial in October,” Morgan Crinklaw, a Chevron spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. ’

The racketeering case is Chevron v. Donziger, 1:11-cv-00691, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). The case in Ecuador is Aquinda v. Chevron, 002-2003, Superior Court of Nueva Loja, Lago Agrio, Ecuador.

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