By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Steven Donziger, the lawyeraccused by Chevron Corp of using bribery to secure a $19billion judgment over pollution in Ecuador, has never been shyabout his opinion of U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan.
"What he's doing is not judging," Donziger said of Kaplan,who is presiding over a non-jury trial on Chevron's claims in afederal court in New York. "He's prosecuting."
Donziger, who spoke to reporters on Friday, is expected totake the stand on Monday to testify in his own defense. Thetrial is entering its sixth week.
His appearance will be a dramatic moment in the years-longlegal battle that has pitted the vast resources of a global oilcompany against Donziger and the group of villagers innortheastern Ecuador that he advised.
In a draft of his testimony provided to the press, Donzigeraccused Kaplan of bias while criticizing Chevron for "the mostwell-funded corporate retaliation campaign in history."
"I challenge at the most fundamental level the legitimacy ofthis proceeding," he wrote.
A court spokeswoman said Kaplan would have no comment. In2011, Kaplan rejected Donziger's request that the judge recusehimself for partiality. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appealslater upheld his decision on appeal.
The case centers on contamination between 1964 and 1992 froman oil field operated by Texaco, which was later acquired byChevron. In 2011 an Ecuadorean judge, Nicolas Zambrano, issuedan $18 billion judgment - later increased to $19 billion -against Chevron in favor of a group of villagers who livednearby.
Ecuador's highest court upheld the decision this week butslashed the amount to $9.5 billion. Chevron claims that Texacocleaned up the site after ceasing Ecuadorean operations in 1992and handing the field over to state-controlled Petroecuador.
The villagers have sought to enforce the judgment in courtsin Canada, Brazil and Argentina, since Chevron no longer hasassets in Ecuador. If Chevron wins at trial, it would likely usethe ruling to bolster its case against enforcing the judgment inforeign courts.
During the trial, a former Ecuadorean judge, Alberto Guerra,testified that he was paid to ghostwrite Zambrano's opinion andthat Donziger was aware of the scheme.
"Chevron has no evidence that I had any involvement inbribing any judge apart from Guerra's thoroughly false andcorrupt testimony," Donziger said in his written testimony. Hesaid Guerra openly asked for a bribe at one point, whichDonziger refused.
Zambrano said on the witness stand that he wrote the opinionon his own and did not accept any payments.
In a statement, a Chevron spokesman called Donziger's drafttestimony "nothing more than 60 pages of distraction,distortion, fabrication and irrelevance." He also said it didnothing to refute the evidence Chevron has presented at trial,including experts who said Zambrano could not have written theopinion alone and in the time frame he claimed.
Donziger also claimed Chevron acted improperly during theEcuadorean case, meeting with judges without opposing counselpresent and using "back channels" to pressure governmentofficials.
As both sides have done with previous witness statements,Chevron is expected to ask Kaplan to strike portions ofDonziger's submission as inadmissible.
Donziger said in his testimony that he held secret meetingswith an expert who prepared a report on Chevron's liability inEcuador and that his team paid the expert, but he said hebelieved that those actions were in keeping with Ecuadorean law.
On Friday afternoon, Donziger spoke with reporters for 90minutes in a crowded loft apartment where 14 lawyers, activistsand volunteers on his team have been sleeping during the trial.
He and one of his lawyers, Zoe Littlepage, said they fullyexpect Kaplan to rule against them and are already contemplatingthe basis for an appeal.
Besides their claim that Kaplan is biased, they said theywould argue that Chevron's lawsuit improperly seeks to use thefederal racketeering statute to stay enforcement of a foreignjudgment.
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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