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Southern District Judge Lewis Kaplan to Handle Chevron v. Donzinger
Chevron, the American multinational energy corporation scouts, drills, processes, refines, transports, and markets oil and gas. The energy company had a 2012 revenue of 241 billion USD. It is ranked 11th on the Fortune 500.
Oil companies tend to have large balance sheets, and large sinking funds for certain liabilities, like spills or pirate attack, etc. Chevron is a large company, and it has dealings in Ecuador where it extracts crude oil. There have been some environmental problems with the groundwater and its interaction with crude oil there.
Attorney Steven Donzinger, representing Ecuadorian clients accuses Chevron of avoiding the financial responsibility that was theirs to take up in terms of the costs of environmental damage that the oil company left behind. The trial will start Oct. 15th, although Judge Kaplan denied Donzinger’s request for a jury trial.
Chevron has accused Donzinger of racketeering, conspiracy, and fraud in efforts to win the “Lago Agrio” litigation, according to the CT Law Tribune. On the other hand, Attorney Donzinger accuses energy giant Chevron of “scorched–earth” tactics, and of not paying money for environmental damage.
Donzinger has accused Judge Kaplan of being biased in favor of Chevron, as the judge had issued rulings in favor of the company. The Ecuadorians represented already won a multi-billion dollar environmental judgment in Ecuador. It is possible at this time that Judge Kaplan may allow another count to be added to the complaint in the suit, ‘unjust enrichment.’ Chevron’s lawyer, Randy Mastro, a Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner, commented that the claim is “equitable, and one that keeps this a bench trial.” Donzinger argues the opposite, and comments that “the unjust enrichment claim is, in effect, a money claim that warrants trial by jury.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected attorney Donzinger’s request to have judge Kaplan replaced. Donzinger has accused Chevron of “smearing his reputation, chilling his free speech rights, and driving him away from representing the Ecuadorian communities who are his clients.” He feels that the court “promotes, encourages, and amplifies,” the ‘wrongdoings’ that Chevron has done to him. Ultimately Donzinger feels that Chevron has accused him openly of being a criminal, and that he and his clients are being denied justice. He seeks a jury trial.
Judge Kaplan commented “Even if the Defendant’s [claim] had merit – which it does not, is beside the point, [since] the Defendants’ claim of bias has been rejected repeatedly by this court and the court of appeals.” He finalizes by saying that the law clearly states that the trial by jury would only happen if the U.S. Constitution requires it, and in this case, it does not. “Trial by jury is available only if the parties and the trial judge all agree to it.” Because Chevron will not agree, that is a situation certainly in their favor.