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Chevron has lost yet another legal round over its increasingly furious effort to evade paying an $18 billion judgment in Ecuador for causing environmental damage in the Amazon rainforest, according to a decision released by a U.S. federal judge.
Just days after an appellate panel in Ecuador, U.S. federal judge, Lewis A. Kaplan, denied the company’s motion to attach the assets of the Ecuadorian plaintiffs.
The decision also comes just weeks after Chevron was exposed for trying to bribe Ecuador’s government to quash the case by making a “donation” to an environmental project, and reports surfaced that the company tried to corrupt the court process in Ecuador by using a secret lab.
Kaplan also denied a request by Chevron for a restraining order preventing the Ecuadorians and their lawyers from selling any portion of the claims, so they could finance the litigation. The Ecuadorians had argued that Chevron’s motion was nothing more than an attempt to dry up support for their 18-year case, thereby denying them legal counsel and the ability to enforce the Ecuador judgment.
“This decision is another rebuke for Chevron, and it comes on the heels of a devastating defeat in the appellate court of Ecuador,” said Karen Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for the 30,000 Ecuadorians who have accused the oil giant of dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into their ancestral lands.
Chevron had argued to Kaplan that the Ecuador judgment was based on “fraud” and, therefore, was not entitled to be enforced, even in countries outside the U.S. Chevron stripped its assets from Ecuador and has said it will not comply with the judgment.
Lawyers for the rainforest communities had argued that Chevron’s motion had no legal basis and that the judgment in Ecuador is based on a wide body of scientific evidence. The company caused one of the worst environmental disasters in history, decimating five indigenous groups and causing an outbreak of cancer.
The communities also argued that Chevron had the ability to block any enforcement actions by the Ecuadorians by simply posting a bond while it appeals to Ecuador’s highest court. Chevron reported profits of roughly $30 billion in 2011 and total assets of more than $204 billion.
“The relief Chevron seeks is improper and unprecedented,” argued Craig Smyser, a U.S. lawyer for the Ecuadorians, in a letter to Judge Kaplan. Smyser noted that the remedy sought by Chevron had never been granted in U.S. history under similar facts.
“Chevron’s latest histrionics and hysteria justify neither a temporary restraining order, nor an order of attachment,” Smyser said in his letter, which was submitted before Kaplan issued his decision.
Chevron faces another problem — its lead outside law firm in the Ecuador matter, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, has come under increasing attack for orchestrating a string of legal setbacks that imperil the interests of company shareholders, according to a recent blog in the Huffington Post.
The blog noted that since Gibson Dunn entered the matter two years ago, Chevron has been hit with an $18 billion judgment at the trial court in Ecuador, lost the appellate decision in Ecuador, and was reversed by a U.S. federal appeals court last September in its unprecedented effort to seek a worldwide injunction to block enforcement of the Ecuador judgment.
Gibson Dunn also faces mounting ethical questions about its sharp-edged litigation practices in the Ecuador matter, which recently led a federal court to sanction and fine Chevron after finding that a Gibson Dunn lawyer harassed a witness in the Ecuador matter.
In Ecuador, the trial court imposed a punitive damages award to the plaintiffs after finding Chevron’s lawyers tried to delay and undermine the proceedings by threatening a judge with jail time if he did not rule in the company’s favor.