The principal lawyer trying to bring Chevron Corp to justice for polluting two million hectares of Ecuadorean Amazonian region was suspended from practicing law in New York by an appeals court on Tuesday.
Lawyer Steven Donziger who won a US$18 billion settlement against Chevron in 2011 - later reduced to US$9.5 billion - on behalf of communities affected by the billions of gallons of oil waste and crude left by Texaco oil company, was ruled, “a threat to the public order.”
Donziger brought the case against Chevron which had bought out Texaco in 2001.
A five-judge panel appeals court of the First Department in Manhattan found Donziger guilty of professional misconduct and order his suspension.
Donziger said the ruling was made without allowing him a hearing and that the decision by the appeals court was based on information provided by Chevron. In a statement, Donziger says: "The First Department rests its decision to suspend me without a hearing was based largely on false testimony paid for by Chevron and presented by an admittedly corrupt witness coached 53 days by company lawyers prior to taking the stand.
The entire case was designed to retaliate against me for my role in holding the company accountable for the deliberate dumping of billions of gallons of toxic waste in Ecuador -- dumping which decimated Indigenous peoples and created an environmental catastrophe that continues to cause grave harm to vulnerable communities in the Amazon rainforest."
Ecuador’s foreign ministry reports that 15.8 billion gallons of oil waste and 28.5 million gallons of crude were left behind by Texaco in the aftermath of its excavation practices between 1964 and 1992.
The government has long claimed that Chevron promised to clean to the over 220 wells and 1,000 pools that Texaco drilled. The company never followed through on its legal obligation, says Ecuador. Chevron merely paid a company to fill over 150 of the pools with "sticks, soil and even cement (which allows crude) to continually spout from the pools and infiltrate the groundwater sources that are used for human consumption."
In 2011 Donziger won an $18 billion judgment against Chevron in Ecuador, which was later reduced by half. That same year Chevron appealed the ruling and in 2014, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan sided with Chevron saying that Donziger and his legal team used bribery, coercion, and fraud to obtain the original win. Judge Kaplan barred anyone from "profiting in any way from the egregious fraud that occurred."
His ruling was later upheld by a different U.S. appeals court in 2016.
Tuesday ruling by the five judges read that Donziger's appeal to them didn’t address Kaplan’s accusations of the supposed bribery, witness tampering, and ghostwriting he said the lawyer committed. The "respondent should be immediately suspended," said the judges.
Since 2015 Donziger has been trying to win a ruling in favor of his plaintiffs in Argentine, Brazilian, Canadian courts, but has lost these attempts. A Gibraltar court even ruled in favor of Chevron.
In his statement released after Tuesday’s decision, Donziger, who has been carrying this case for nearly 20 years, said that Kaplan’s 2014 ruling was based on "Chevron's paid-for witnesses … that were either false or distorted."
The New York lawyer says the decision was made without allowing him a hearing, which he called a "gross injustice."
Donziger said in his communique: "I will continue to fight for my Ecuadorian clients around the world to ensure that Chevron is held accountable and pays the full amount of the judgment against it." He plans to appeal Tuesday’s decision.
Editor's Note: TeleSUR will continue to follow this story. We are releasing an upcoming documentary short film on the negative environmental, health and social effects left behind by Texaco's oil spills.