08 October 2013, News Wires – Chevron has persuaded a New York court that a judge, not a jury, should hear a racketeering case involving what the US supermajor believes to be a fraudulent $19 billion pollution judgement on a case brought by Ecuadorean villagers.
It is a win for Chevron’s legal strategy in the fraud case after the company decided to drop claims for monetary damages against plaintiffs from Ecuador, which contends that claimants led by trial lawyer Stephen Donzinger used bogus evidence and bribes to land the judgement.
The supermajor did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Upstream.
Because Chevron is not seeking damages from the plaintiffs, the case no longer demands a jury trial, US District Judge Lewis Kaplan said in an opinion on Monday.
“Cases seeking only injunctions, imposition of constructive trusts, and disgorgement –including (racketeering) cases based on alleged mail and wire fraud seeking only such relief – all are purely equitable and carry no right to trial by jury,” the judge stated.
The trial kicks off on 15 October. The plaintiffs rebuffed the opinion.
“Given the documented evidence of his own bias, Judge Kaplan’s last-minute decision is a clear abuse of power and again shows Chevron does not believe enough in its own case to present it to a jury,” Chris Gowen, a spokesman for Donziger and the Ecuadoreans, told Reuters.
It is the latest twist in a complex, decades-long legal case pertaining to oil contamination in the remote region of Lago Agrio in areas once explored by Texaco, which was later acquired by Chevron.
Villagers claimed that the US companies had failed to adequately clean up the oil sites, while Chevron contended their cleanup obligations were met and subsequent pollution was caused by state-owned Petroecuador, which took over the sites in question.
The thorny legal proceeding, which has unfolded across tribunals and courts in the US and Latin America, has included accusations of bribery and fraud on both sides.
Chevron has in recent months strung together multiple victories as it highlighted plaintiffs witnesses including environmental consultants who recanted prior testimony and evidence.
But the Ecuadorean plaintiffs have sought to enforce the judgement against Chevron – which no longer has any substantial operations in Ecuador – in a range of other markets including Canada, Brazil and Argentina.