Chevron makes its case in trial over $19 bln Ecuadorean judgment

Reuters

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Chevron Corp isbringing its enormous resources to bear in a court case in NewYork in which it has accused a U.S. lawyer of using fraud to wina $19 billion environmental judgment against it.

The judgment was made by an Ecuadorean court to a group ofaffected villagers in 2011. Chevron has asked the U.S. DistrictCourt in Manhattan to prevent the villagers and the U.S. lawyerwho helped them, Steven Donziger, from collecting the award.

Donziger has denied using fraud to obtain the judgment.

Chevron, which rested its case on Tuesday, has brought aseries of expert witnesses from the fields of linguistics,psychology and computer science to testify in the case over thepast four weeks.

The star witness was Alberto Guerra, a former Ecuadoreanjudge who said he was paid by lawyers for the villagers toghostwrite rulings for the judge in the case.

Donziger was aware of the arrangement, he said.

"Mr. Donziger thanked me for the work that I was going todo," Guerra said.

Lawyers for Donziger said Guerra's testimony cannot becredited because Chevron paid to relocate his family and hascovered his living and housing expenses.

The judge who made the award, Nicolas Zambrano, alsoappeared as a witness for Chevron.

Zambrano said he authored every word of the 188-page opinionon his own. But Chevron, with a small army of lawyers from toplaw firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, raised several apparentinconsistencies in his testimony.

When asked how he was able to cite both French and Englishcase law in his 188-page decision, despite speaking neitherlanguage, Zambrano said an assistant found the citations onlinefor him.

Other witnesses included experts who said that Zambrano'sopinion contained material from Donziger's files and thatZambrano could not possibly have reviewed hundreds of thousandsof documents in the case in the time frame he claimed.

And a U.S. lawyer who worked on the Ecuador case, JeffreyShinder, testified that he pulled out of the case after only afew days when he learned that an expert's report on Chevron'sliability was ghostwritten.

Donziger's much smaller defense team began putting on hiscase on Tuesday.

The first witness, Donald Moncayo, who worked for theplaintiffs, said on Tuesday morning that he saw Chevron lawyersin Ecuador meet in private with judges, in an apparent effort toshow that Chevron did not act properly during the Ecuadoreancase.

Other scheduled defense witnesses include Zambrano'sassistant, Evelyn Calva, who has said she took dictation andobserved him coming up with the decision entirely on his own.

Donziger, who was not present in court on Tuesday, is also expected to testify.

The case stems from pollution between 1964 and 1992 at anoil field operated by Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in2001. Zambrano awarded $18 billion to residents of Lago Agrio in2011, and the amount was later increased to $19 billion to coverfees.

Because Chevron no longer has assets in Ecuador, thevillagers have tried to seek enforcement of the judgment outsidethe country, resulting in the action by Chevron.

Defense lawyers have complained that U.S. District JudgeLewis Kaplan, who is presiding over the trial without a jury, isbiased against them.

Chevron will call one more witness out of order on Thursdaybecause of scheduling issues. The witness, Joshua Lipton, is thepresident of Stratus Consulting, which Chevron has accused ofghostwriting the report to which Shinder referred in histestimony.

The case is Chevron Corp v. Steven Donziger et al, U.S.District Court for the Southern District of New York, No.11-0691.

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