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After 22 Years, Appellate Judge in Epic Pollution Case Suggests a Do-Over

Bloomberg News - Paul M. Barrett 20/04/2015

Judge Richard Wesley of the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York has a big, bold idea for the next step in a 22-year-long courtroom war over oil pollution in Ecuador: Start again, from scratch.

Wesley repeatedly suggested the do-over during a lively but inconclusive oral argument on Monday in the case that pits Chevron against Steven Donziger, a controversial New York plaintiffs' lawyer who successfully sued the oil producer in Ecuador, only to find himself branded a racketeer by a federal judge back in Manhattan. Here are highlights from the closely watched case about corporate accountability and alleged attorney misconduct:

First, some background

Since 1993, the New York lawyer has battled to hold the American oil industry responsible for massive contamination in a rain forest region of northeastern Ecuador. In 2011, Donziger won a multibillion-dollar judgment against Chevron in a trial court that held the American company responsible for pollution in the 1970s and 1980s. Upheld by Ecuador's highest court, that judgment is now worth about $9.5 billion.

In 2014, however, Chevron won a clashing ruling from a federal judge in Manhattan, who determined that Donziger's suit against the oil giant had devolved into a racketeer-style shake down of Chevron that included fabricated evidence, coercion, and bribery. The oil company is using the U.S. racketeering verdict as a basis for refusing to pay up on the Ecuadorian judgment. Wesley and two other members of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard arguments today in Donziger's appeal of the racketeering judgment.

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