Ecuador Judge Says $19 Billion Chevron Ruling Was His OwnChristie Smythe
A former Ecuadorean judge who issued a $19 billion pollution ruling against Chevron Corp. told a U.S. court that he worked alone on the case and denied the company’s allegation that his decision was ghostwritten.
Nicolas Zambrano, the former judge, testified in a trial in federal court in Manhattan today that the only help he received in preparing his 188-page ruling issued in 2011 came from an 18-year-old secretary who typed his dictation and conducted Internet research for him.
Chevron claims in a racketeering case before U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan that the plaintiffs in the environmental case won the ruling through bribery and fraud. The San Ramon, California-based energy company alleges that Zambrano and another former Ecuadorean judge, Alberto Guerra, were bribed to steer the case in favor of the plaintiffs and the $19 billion judgment was actually written by the plaintiffs and Guerra.
“No one has helped me to write the judgment,” Zambrano said through a translator today when questioned by a lawyer for Chevron, Randy Mastro. “I was the one who explicitly drafted it.”
The former judge, who also served as a prosecutor in Ecuador, said he spent “many hours, many days” on the ruling. He was unable to answer questions Mastro asked about specifics in the judgment, such as the identity of a substance that had been described in the document as “the most powerful carcinogenic agent” and information described as “statistical data of the highest importance to delivering this ruling.”
After Zambrano said he couldn’t read or speak English or French, Mastro asked how he had managed to cite U.S., Australian and French legal authorities in the judgment.
“As I stated in my deposition, the young woman who would help me type the judgment, she was the one going on the Internet” and she “chose the Spanish option,” Zambrano said. “That is how I would become aware or informed of the subject I was interested in. She would print them so I could read them later.”
Guerra testified Oct. 23 that Zambrano routinely paid him to ghostwrite rulings in his cases, including the Chevron ruling. Guerra also said that Zambrano had been promised $500,000 by the plaintiffs from the proceeds of the judgment and had told Guerra he could also get a share.
Zambrano testified that Guerra aided him in preparing drafts of court orders, although not in the Chevron case. Zambrano denied paying Guerra for his help. He previously has denied accepting bribes to issue a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs.
Chevron, the second-largest U.S.-based energy firm, claims that lawyers for the plaintiffs, led by Manhattan attorney Steven Donziger, engaged in a scheme to extort money from the company during a 20-year legal battle over pollution in an Ecuador oil concession.
The company is seeking an order barring lawyers for the Ecuadoreans from trying to enforce the 2011 pollution judgment in countries where Chevron has assets.
Guerra now lives in the U.S. and receives $12,000 per month from Chevron along with other benefits through at least 2015 under an agreement with the company.
In the environmental case, Donziger and other lawyers for indigenous people in Ecuador’s Lago Agrio region sought damages for Texaco Inc.’s alleged dumping of toxic drilling wastes from 1964 until about 1992. The lawsuit continued against Chevron when it acquired Texaco in 2001.
Chevron contends that state-owned Petroecuador, a former Texaco joint-venture partner, is responsible for most of the pollution and that Texaco already paid to clean up its share.
Donziger claims he did nothing illegal in Ecuador and that his tactics were no different from Chevron’s.
The racketeering case is Chevron Corp. v. Donziger, 11-cv-00691, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). The appeals court case is In Re Naranjo, 13-00772, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Manhattan).