NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - A spokeswoman for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs suing Chevron Corp. says a new order filed by a federal judge is part of a "conspiracy" between the company and the judge to prevent enforcement of a $18 billion judgment against the oil giant.
"This futile and baseless legal filing is yet another sign of Chevron's increasing desperation after losing multiple legal battles in both U.S. and Ecuador courts over its destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador," Karen Hinton said late Wednesday.
"Because Chevron can't win in court, it is now turning to its favorite American judge to try to help it block its victims from financing their legal case."
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, for the Southern District of New York, filed a one-page order Wednesday saying if Chevron's recent motion for attachment is opposed, the court "anticipates that arguments in opposition will overlap substantially with arguments made previously in motions to dismiss."
Any filings in opposition to the company's motion, Kaplan wrote, "shall avoid repetition of, but may incorporate by reference, arguments already before the court."
"The real conspiracy is between Chevron and Judge Kaplan who are working in concert to prevent the Ecuadorians from enforcing a legitimate judgment," Hinton said.
"Chevron has lost a trial in Ecuador based on overwhelming scientific evidence that it poisoned a huge area of rainforest, decimating indigenous groups and farmer communities. No U.S. judge has the authority to stop Chevron's victims from exercising their legal rights to press their claims, as Chevron is asking."
She added, "More than anything, this baseless legal filing is further proof that the Gibson Dunn law firm never misses a chance to take advantage of a billable opportunity when it comes to Chevron."
The company filed its motion for attachment, as it relates to its fraud and RICO claims against the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, in federal court Tuesday.
Chevron says it is seeking to prevent the Ecuadorians from collecting any monies based on what it describes as a "fraudulent judgment that they have obtained through collusion with a corrupt Ecuadorian court."
But Hinton says the company's request is "clearly a back-door attempt to circumvent legal precedent that protects the right of the Ecuadorian rainforest residents to raise the funds necessary to press their legal claims and hold Chevron accountable for the environmental crimes committed on their ancestral lands."
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, then 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.
In September, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordered that the injunction be vacated.
The Second Circuit also stayed a trial that was scheduled for November by Kaplan that Chevron sought on the enforceability of the judgment.
Chevron argued in its newest motion that it is likely to prevail on its RICO, fraud and other common law claims.
"Indeed, this Court already has credited the 'ample evidence' that Chevron presented at the outset of this case to establish its probability of success in proving that Defendants engaged in fraud and other tortious conduct," the company's lawyers wrote.
The company contends that if the Ecuadorians had a "legitimate judgment they believed could withstand honest judicial scrutiny," they would have welcomed the opportunity to litigate in U.S. federal court, "in the sole country where Chevron Corp. is present and has assets to satisfy a judgment."
"But since they fear further exposure and adjudication of their corrupt practices, they are scheming to enforce the fraudulent Ecuadorian judgment in foreign jurisdictions where they, their counsel and their other conspirators have influence -- against separate Chevron affiliates with no connection to the Ecuadorian claims at issue -- and to convert alleged future interests in the fraudulent judgment into present cash while keeping any proceeds out of this Court's reach," Chevron wrote.
To ensure that the Ecuadorians are not able to render the company's RICO and common law claims a "practical nullity" by dispersing their assets before trial, the company is seeking prejudgment attachment of their assets, in particular their alleged "interests" in the fraudulent judgment against Chevron.
In September, following the Second Circuit's order, the company said it remained 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.
At the time, Chevron said it also remained "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.
"There is no legitimate evidence supporting any finding of liability against Chevron because Texaco Petroleum Company cleaned up its share of environmental impacts in Ecuador and the remaining impacts are the responsibility of the government of Ecuador and its state-owned oil company, Petroecuador," the company said in a statement.
Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson said Tuesday that the company is still awaiting the opinion of the Second Circuit with respect to the enforceability of the judgment.
He said Kaplan's order is merely an effort to "avoid redundant content" in the expected filings.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.