Report: Former Ecuadorian judge testifies to taking bribes from plaintiffs' lawyers

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Oct 28, 2013

NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) -- A former Ecuadorian judge, who presided over the environmental case against Chevron Corp. when it was first filed in 2003, admitted Friday to taking bribes from the plaintiffs' lawyers who won a $19 billion judgment against the oil giant.

Alberto Guerra, Chevron's key witness, testified he was paid thousands of dollars by the plaintiffs' lawyers -- including New York attorney Steven Donziger -- and a subsequent judge, Nicholas Zambrano, for illegally ghostwriting judicial orders issued by Zambrano and steering the case in the plaintiffs' favor.

Guerra claims that the plaintiffs' lawyers were permitted to draft the $19 billion judgment in their own favor after they promised to pay Zambrano a $500,000 bribe out of the judgment's enforcement proceeds, and that Guerra then reviewed the plaintiffs' lawyers' draft for Zambrano before the judge issued it as his own.

Donziger has admitted to meeting with Guerra privately, but denies the former judge's other allegations.

In the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Friday, Guerra also admitted to Zoe Littlepage, of Littlepage Booth in Houston and one of Donziger's attorneys, that he initially told Chevron representatives that the plaintiffs promised him $300,000.

"It was an exaggeration on my part to secure a better position for myself," Guerra testified through a translator, according to BusinessWeek. "It was not true."

Because of the risks to Guerra and his family in coming forward, Chevron has taken "reasonable measures" to protect his safety and security, and that of his family.

This includes relocating them from Ecuador and providing other assistance, such as living expenses, monthly housing allowance, health insurance coverage, a leased car, payment for attorneys and moving expenses, according to an agreement filed with the federal court.

Chris Gowen, of Washington, D.C.-based The Gowen Group Law Office PLLC and a spokesman for Donziger, took issue with Chevron's reliance on Guerra.

"He's the worst, least believable witness who has ever testified in federal court," Gowen said Friday, according to BusinessWeek.

Zambrano also is expected to testify in the trial, which began Oct. 15 and is expected to last through much of November.

Judge Lewis Kaplan is presiding over the bench trial.

The lawsuit was filed by Chevron in the federal court in February 2011.

The $19 billion judgment stems from an environmental lawsuit involving Texaco Petroleum.

In February 2011, an Ecuadorian court found the company liable for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon, causing an outbreak of disease and decimating indigenous groups.

The oil company has vowed never to pay the hefty judgment.

Instead, it filed a racketeering lawsuit in the Southern District of New York, 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.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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