Anti-Chevron, rainforest and native peoples activists—which is to say, a handful of loyalists to New York-based attorney Steven Donziger and Donziger himself—have accused a federal judge in New York of allowing his personal investments to taint a March ruling that portrayed a multibillion-dollar pollution suit against the oil company as a massive shakedown. If it were taken seriously, the conflict-of-interest allegation against U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan would sully the reputation of a prominent jurist and undermine his decision in March that the plaintiffs’ attorney in the case, Donziger, morphed into a racketeer while pursuing Chevron in Ecuador.
Because it’s based on a fundamental distortion of the rules governing judicial financial disclosures and conflicts of interest, the ethics charge isn’t likely to be taken seriously. Moreover, the lawyer representing Donziger in a separate appeal of Kaplan’s verdict declines to endorse or associate himself with his client’s risky attack on Kaplan’s ethics. Still, it’s noteworthy because the fight over Kaplan’s credibility will help determine whether Donziger can ever force the oil company to pay for a cleanup in the Amazon .