Greenpeace Founder Blasts Chevron and U.S. Judge Kaplan for “Intimidation” Campaign Against Ecuadorian Villagers

NEW YORK - Greenpeace co-founder and writer Rex Weyler has published an expose of a SLAPP-style intimidation campaign orchestrated by Chevron and U.S. trial judge Lewis A. Kaplan against Indigenous peoples of Ecuador and an American lawyer, who helped win a $12 billion judgment against the company for oil pollution in the Amazon rainforest.

Published on the Greenpeace International website, the article criticizes Chevron and its corporate law firm, Gibson Dunn, for “fabricating evidence, lying and other criminal misconduct” to evade paying the Ecuador judgment.  Chevron operated in Ecuador from 1964 to 1992. In 2011, after an eight-year trial in Ecuador –where Chevron insisted the trial take place– the company was convicted of dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into waterways and abandoning 900 unlined toxic waste pits.  (See the summary of evidence against Chevron.)

In the region known locally as the “Amazon Chernobyl,” cancer rates have skyrocketed. Legendary nurse Rosa Moreno, who operated the lone clinic in the region, recently died of cancer. Since Chevron fled Ecuador and has refused to pay the judgment, the affected Indigenous peoples are moving to seize company assets in Canada, where they have achieved three consecutive and unanimous appellate court victories.

After visiting the impacted area in Ecuador, Weyler earlier reported on Chevron's “ecological crimes”.  Regarding the lawsuit heard in Kaplan’s New York courtroom, Weyler writes: “These days, when powerful corporations get caught breaking the law, polluting the Earth, violating human rights, or all of these crimes simultaneously, they don’t pay the fine and make amends like normal citizens. They attack.

“Corporate lawyers spend millions to assault victims with SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation)... The purpose of a SLAPP is not necessarily to win in court, but rather to intimidate, harass, demonize and bankrupt the weaker opponent.” 

Weyler called the Chevron “racketeering suit” against the Ecuadorians and Donziger possibly “the most vindictive SLAPP in history” given that the company has spent an estimated $2 billion on at least 60 law firms and hundreds of lawyers. Weyler also pointed out that Greenpeace itself has been the victim of two new SLAPP-style suits designed to chill the group’s advocacy.

Weyler also used the platform to criticize U.S. trial Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who ruled in favor of Chevron in the company’s SLAPP suit based largely on false testimony from an admittedly corrupt witness paid $2 million by the company. (See here for background on Chevron’s fraud during the civil "racketeering" proceeding or RICO trial.)

Weyler describes Kaplan as a “judge acting as a prosecutor” on behalf of Chevron; Kaplan held undisclosed investments in Chevron during the trial.  Weyler quotes noted lawyer John Keker calling Kaplan’s “racketeering” trial against Donziger a “Dickensian farce” that violated basic standards of due process. 

Other highlights of Weyler‘s article include: 

  • Kaplan allowed Chevron to pay $2 million to an admittedly corrupt Ecuadorian witness, Alberto Guerra, who claimed under oath he attended a meeting in Ecuador where Donziger offered a bribe to ghostwrite the judgment.  The witness later recanted much of his testimony, and a computer forensic analysis proved he was lying; Kaplan never corrected his decision.
  • Through much of the RICO proceeding, Kaplan mocked the Ecuadorians by calling them the “so-called” plaintiffs.  He referred to their case as a “game” and “not bona fide litigation” despite the fact the Ecuador court proceeding lasted eight years, generated 220,000 pages of evidence, and relied on 105 technical evidentiary reports.
  • Federal rules typically limit a deposition to one day or possibly two in extraordinary cases.  Kaplan forced Donziger to sit for 19 days of depositions at the hands of Chevron’s large legal team, which engaged in tag team questioning while dozens of lawyers watched in person and dozens more over an Internet feed.
  • Kaplan appointed his close friend and former law partner, Max Gitter, to rule over depositions in the case as an officer of the court.  Gitter – notoriously biased in favor of Chevron -- was paid entirely by the oil company into a private account and the bill likely ran well into the millions of dollars. Kaplan has refused Donziger’s repeated requests for disclosure of the amount and to take discovery of Gitter to determine the full contours of his relationship with Chevron. (Here is background on the secret Chevron payments to Gitter.)
  • Kaplan tried to issue an unprecedented worldwide injunction purporting to block enforcement of the Ecuador judgment and he did so prior to even holding an evidentiary hearing. The injunction, which clearly violates international law, was overturned unanimously on appeal one day after oral argument.
  • Kaplan allowed Chevron to serve subpoenas on Amazon Watch, Google, Microsoft and others, seeking email accounts to track the activities of some 100 lawyers, students, journalists, and academics who supported the case -- all part of the company's intimidation campaign, said Weyler.
  • During the RICO trial, Kaplan prohibited Donziger and other defendants from even mentioning any evidence “related to the existence of pollution in Ecuador,” although pollution comprised the entire point of the underlying lawsuit that Kaplan was purporting to rule on. 
  • Kaplan accepted testimony from anonymous witnesses, whose identities were never disclosed to the defendants, Donziger and two Ecuadorian citizens.

Although Chevron had sued Donziger for a record $60 billion in damages, the company dropped this claim on the eve of trial to avoid a jury. Now, Chevron is attempting to force the lawyer to reimburse Chevron $32 million in legal fees for its expenses during the non-jury trial – an amount Donziger says would bankrupt him. “Chevron is extremely angry at the success of the lawsuit in Ecuador and Canada,” said Donziger, "and is now doing anything it can in the U.S. to intimidate counsel into silence, including threatening to impose punitive financial penalties.”

For more information, please contact:

Karen Hinton
Phone: 703-798-3109