Caso Chevron

Chevron Moves to Collect $3.4 Million from Lawyer Steven Donziger in Florida - Raychel Lean 18/10/2019

International oil giant Chevron Corp. has moved to register a $3.4 million attorney-fee judgment against suspended New York attorney Steven Donziger in Florida, where he’s originally from, marking the latest chapter of a decadeslong saga of hostility between the two litigants.

A federal judge in New York awarded the fees in July against Donziger and his former law firms, Donziger Associates and The Law Office of Steven R. Donziger, after holding Donziger in contempt of court for blocking Chevron’s attempts to collect a money judgment from him.

Chevron and Donziger have been foes since the 1990s, when Donziger sued on behalf of indigenous and farmer communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest. The plaintiffs alleged they suffered high cancer rates and birth defects because of deliberate oil and waste-water dumping by Chevron’s predecessor Texaco Inc.

Chevron argued that a 1998 agreement it signed with Ecuador had absolved it of further liability. But in 2011, the Ecuador Supreme Court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor, awarding $9.5 billion in compensation.

But Chevron responded with a racketeering suit against Donziger, seeking to block the judgment. And it was successful as U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in the Southern District of New York found in 2014 that the Ecuador judgment had been obtained through fraud, bribery and corruption from the plaintiffs’ legal team. An international tribunal in The Hague also sided with Chevron.

Donziger has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, claiming the allegations against him were based on fraudulent testimony from a disgraced former Ecuadorian judge whom he alleges was bribed by Chevron.

He has appealed the $3.4 million attorney-fee judgment, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has yet to rule.

Donziger was suspended over the ruling in New York and the District of Columbia in 2018 and could lose his license. At a September disbarment hearing in New York, Donziger claimed Kaplan refused to consider evidence disproving the claims against him. The hearing will continue at the end of October, after which a referee will make a recommendation to the court.

Chevron has retained Luis Suarez of Boies Schiller Flexner’s Miami office. He deferred comment to Chevron spokesperson Sean Comey, who said the company is seeking to hold Donziger accountable for violating the New York ruling, which prohibits him from profiting from the Ecuadorian judgment.

“A federal court in New York has awarded Chevron Corp. multimillion-dollar money judgments against Donziger. This judgment enforcement action in Florida, where Donziger has some assets, is part of the process to hold Donziger responsible for his wrongdoing,” Comey said. “Chevron will continue to work to hold the perpetrators of this fraud accountable for their actions.”

‘He just keeps going’

Donziger has not yet retained Florida counsel, but his attorney in the disciplinary proceedings, Richard Friedman of Friedman Rubin of Seattle, said he believes Chevron is hoping to avoid Donziger’s efforts in Canada to collect on the original judgment for the Ecuadorean plaintiffs.

“The strategy of Chevron has been to do its best to destroy Steven, because if they can make him go away maybe they can make the case go away,” Friedman said.

Friedman claims there isn’t much to collect from Donziger, in Florida or elsewhere.

“Steven has never made a lot of money,” Friedman said. “They [Chevron] keep trying to suggest that he’s stealing money somehow, but he lives in a very modest apartment in New York. He lives a very modest lifestyle.”

Friedman said he’s in awe of Donziger’s will to keep fighting the case.

“They [Chevron] are literally trying to destroy him, and for anyone else it would have been devastating,” Friedman said. “He is about the most resilient, courageous person I’ve ever met, so he just keeps going. I don’t know how he does it.”

U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro will preside over the Florida litigation.

Donziger is also facing criminal contempt charges for allegedly flouting multiple court orders and judgments. In August, Kaplan ordered attorneys at Seward & Kissel to prosecute Donziger after the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York declined to take on the case ”on the ground the matter would require resources that we do not have readily available.”