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Chevron's RICO Win Is a Potent Weapon Against Ecuadorian Pollution Judgment

A federal judge says lawyers suing the oil company committed fraud
Steven Donziger, left
Steven Donziger, leftPhotograph by Adam Nadal/AP Photo

For several years, corporate defense lawyers and lobbyists have watched Chevron use the federal anti-racketeering statute to combat mass-liability lawsuits. Now the results of the experiment are in—a major victory for the oil company in federal court in New York—and business advocates say other corporations will follow suit.

On March 4, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled that a multibillion-dollar pollution judgment against Chevron in 2011 by a court in Ecuador was obtained by means of “coercion,” “bribery,” and other acts violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Kaplan named Steven Donziger, a New York plaintiffs’ lawyer, as the mastermind of a legal campaign that began in 1993 and over two decades evolved into an elaborate shakedown scheme.