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Members of the appellate panel in Ecuador that affirmed the $18 billion judgment against Chevron for contaminating the Amazon rainforest were clearly outraged at the oil giant’s abuse of the judicial process even as it denied a request by the rainforest communities to increase the amount of damages, a reading of an unofficial translation of the decision reveals.
The judges also found ample scientific basis to uphold the damages award — including devastating evidence provided the court by Chevron’s own team of technical experts that proved levels of pollution hundreds of times higher than permitted by law. But citing a lack of evidence, the panel also rejected efforts by the indigenous communities to seek additional damages for the loss of their ancestral lands and for the spreading of oil on the dirt roads of the region.
Chevron has a right to appeal to Ecuador’s National Court of Justice (NCJ) in Quito, but might first be required to post a bond, said Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs. The right to appeal to the NCJ — the nation’s highest judicial authority — will not kick in until the appellate panel has a chance to respond to requests by the parties for clarification, which must be submitted by the end of this week.
The case was heard in Ecuador at the request of Chevron, which fought for almost a decade to shift the venue away from the U.S. federal court where it was originally filed in 1993.
“This decision confirms what we have been saying for years,” said Pablo Fajardo, the lead Ecuadorian lawyer. ”Chevron is guilty of extraordinary greed and criminal misconduct that has created a humanitarian crisis in Ecuador that puts thousands of people at risk.
“Whether people live or die depends largely on whether Chevron meets its responsibility to remediate a problem it created,” Fajardo added. ”Chevron broke the rainforest. It now must fix it.”
In a 16-page single-spaced decision, the three Ecuador judges noted that Chevron had “staged incidents that encumbered the process of the trial” and that it dumped 20,000 pages of largely redundant evidence on the appellate court to delay consideration of the case. The plaintiffs have long accused Chevron of trying to undermine the trial by filing frivolous motions and trying to intimidate judges.
Among the key findings by the panel, which reviewed the voluminous trial record of 220,000 pages for 11 months:
In response to Chevron’s complaints that it was “denied justice” in Ecuador, the appellate court noted on the second page of its decision that the only filings from the oil giant that were denied were those that were “abusive” and “clearly designed to obstruct the administration of justice.” For example, Chevron once filed 18 similar motions in the trial court in a 30-minute period, and tried to have the judge removed when he did not rule on them fast enough.
The court found that Chevron’s requests for proof that it needed to defend itself — including the tedious task of conducting 36 judicial inspections of the company’s former well sites — were “processed without exception.” It found that “hundreds of thousands of documents submitted by Chevron bloated the trial record with everything it considered relevant.”
Referencing Article 283 of Ecuador’s civil code, and citing a long list of examples of Chevron’s malfeasance during the trial, the appellate panel upheld a decision that Chevron should pay the costs of the plaintiffs due to the “flagrant bad faith it exhibited in the case.”
The panel wrote: “Chevron was condemned to pay trial costs for manifest bad faith… so much so that now suffice it to say that the procedural conduct of the defendant, few times seen in the annals of the administration of justice in Ecuador, were abusive to the point that… the Court will not even dedicate any more writings to this portion of the decision.”
The panel also criticized Chevron for continuing to challenge the jurisdiction of Ecuador’s courts, even though the oil giant voluntarily agreed to litigate the case in Ecuador to induce a U.S. federal judge to shift the venue to the South American country.
“From the [initial hearing] up to the present appeal, it can be said that … Chevron has failed to recognize the authority, jurisdiction, and competence of Ecuadorian courts,” the panel wrote on page 15 of its decision.
The court also noted on page 11 of its decision that laboratory results confirmed that pollution existed at former Chevron well sites hundreds of times higher than permissible norms in Ecuador, which themselves are considered relatively lax by international standards.
The panel also noted many of the scientific results that proved the case against Chevron were submitted to the court by Chevron’s own technical experts.