Jessica M. Karmasek May 9, 2013, 5:30pm

NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) -- Chevron CEO John Watson must be deposed by the attorneys for a group of Ecuadorian plaintiffs being sued by the oil giant, a federal magistrate judge ruled Tuesday.

Magistrate James Francis for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York wrote in his 10-page memorandum and order that "there is little doubt" that Watson has "relevant knowledge."

The judge noted that Watson led Chevron's successful merger with Texaco Petroleum Company in 2002, giving him "personal knowledge of the environmental issues underlying the Ecuador litigation."

"As Chief Executive Officer, he has, of course, monitored litigation that creates potential liability for Chevron in the tens of billions of dollars," Francis wrote, denying the company's motion to quash his deposition.

"Enough is at stake to justify the deposition of an apex witness like Mr. Watson."

Francis also denied a motion by Chevron to block a deposition from an official from the corporate spy firm Kroll, which was implicated in a bribery scheme in which an attorney from Chevron and an unnamed Kroll official allegedly provided a cache of cash to a provincial judge in Ecuador, Alberto Guerra, paying him for a failed effort to influence the judge who ultimately decided the case and assessed the $19 billion judgment against the oil company.

In addition, Francis found that Edward B. Scott III, vice president and general counsel of Chevron's Global Upstream and Gas Group, also must appear for deposition.

Read the magistrate judge's full memorandum and order here.

Pablo Fajardo, lead counsel for the Ecuadorians, called the magistrate's ruling an "uncommon victory," noting presiding Judge Lewis Kaplan's continued bias.

"Now CEO Watson and Kroll's investigator can confirm what we already know: that Chevron's bullying and bribery is part of a strategy hatched in Ecuador even before the ruling to avoid paying for remediation and the health and other needs of the affected people," Fajardo said in a statement following Francis' order Tuesday.

The company said in a statement that it will "of course" comply with all orders of the court, "as it participates in the discovery process that continues to expose the plaintiffs' lawyers' fraud."

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