Report: Former aide urged Cuomo into Ecuador lawsuit

Jessica M. Karmasek Oct. 11, 2011, 1:52pm


NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - A spokeswoman for a group of Ecuadorian plaintiffs suing Chevron and one-time aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reportedly drew the former attorney general into the lawsuit filed against the company for polluting an Amazonian region.

Cuomo, as the state's top lawyer two years ago, had threatened to investigate the oil giant, saying it might have violated state law in handling a multibillion-dollar lawsuit over the alleged damage.

However, according to e-mails recently obtained by the New York Times, Cuomo might have gotten involved in the suit for other reasons.

"Andrew has no interest in doing this," Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for the Ecuadorians, wrote in an e-mail in 2009. "He is doing this for me. Because I asked."

Hinton had worked for Cuomo when he was the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development during the Clinton administration.

"We are proud of our ongoing efforts to appropriately inform government officials of evidence that Chevron's management is riddled with conflicts of interest on the Ecuador issue and has mounted a multi-year strategy to mislead its shareholders, the markets, and government regulatory authorities about the the true nature of the risk if faces from the Lago Agrio litigation," Hinton said in a statement Tuesday.

"Chevron has repeatedly refused to meet its legal and ethical responsibilities to the people of Ecuador and we will continue to do everything in our power to educate government officials around the world so they can help hold Chevron's management and Board of Directors accountable for putting thousands of lives at grave risk."

Hinton said Chevron's legal attack "is coming to a close" and that's why the company provided the Times with e-mails that attempt to show Cuomo and other government officials, including New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, have been influenced to support the Ecuadorian plaintiffs.

The e-mails, she explained, are under a court order and are only to be used for litigation purposes.

Last month, DiNapoli urged Chevron to "do what's right for its investors" and "its future viability," and negotiate a fair settlement with the Ecuadorians.

"Chevron, its shareholders and the general public have not and will not benefit from a never-ending courtroom drama," DiNapoli wrote in a guest column on the Huffington Post's website.

As comptroller, DiNapoli serves as trustee of New York's $146.9 billion Common Retirement Fund, which holds nearly $780 million worth of Chevron stock and benefits more than 1 million public workers, retirees and their beneficiaries.

DiNapoli said he fears the case could have an impact on the pension fund.

"The fund benefits when its portfolio companies remain profitable by pursuing responsible and sustainable business policies in the communities in which they operate. Chevron is no exception," he wrote.

The comptroller is the highest-profile shareholder to make such a call.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in September ordered that a preliminary injunction blocking worldwide enforcement of a multibillion-dollar judgment against Chevron be vacated.

The Second Circuit also stayed an upcoming November trial by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan that Chevron sought on the enforceability of the judgment.

In February, an Ecuadorian court found Chevron liable for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon, causing an outbreak of disease and decimating indigenous groups. Damages were found to be up to $18 billion.

Chevron, which has vowed never to pay the judgment, filed a racketeering lawsuit, alleging that the Ecuador suit has been used to threaten the oil company, mislead U.S. government officials, and harass and intimidate its employees -- all to extort a financial settlement from the company.

In March, Kaplan issued an injunction blocking enforcement of the judgment.

DiNapoli said the appeals court's decision makes it "more likely than ever" that Chevron will be forced to make a massive payout to the people of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Meanwhile, a Chevron spokesman said the company submitted a request to DiNapoli's office on Friday under New York's Freedom of Information Law for documents regarding connections between the office and the Ecuadorian plaintiffs' representatives.

"Chevron is seeking documents under FOIL in order to shed further light on the assistance provided by Comptroller DiNapoli and his predecessor, Alan Hevesi, to the plaintiffs' lawyers and consultants involved in the fraudulent litigation against Chevron," Kent Robertson said.

Chevron, though "disappointed" the November trial has been stayed, says it remains committed to its "consistent goal" -- that is, obtaining judicial review on the merits of the Ecuadorian plaintiffs' lawyers' fraud before they are allowed to attempt enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment.

Chevron says it is confident that once the full facts are examined, the judgment will be found unenforceable and those who procured it will be required to answer for their misconduct.

The Ecuadorians deny all of the charges Chevron has made about fraud in the case.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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