November 16, 2018
A New York attorney who won a landmark oil pollution judgment against Chevron in Ecuador’s court system only to have his law license suspended at home for malpractice never got a fair hearing and should be allowed to defend himself against disbarment, a legal referee has ruled.
The decision involves Steven Donziger, who led a legal team representing Ecuadoreans trying to get Chevron to pay for environmental damage caused to a rainforest by Texaco during its operation of an oil consortium from 1972 to 1990.
The legal campaign begun in 1993 was ultimately successful in Ecuador. A court there ordered Chevron to pay $9.5 billion. But in 2014, a judge in New York, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, invalidated the Ecuador judgment, deeming it was obtained through legal malpractice.
In July, a New York State appeals court suspended Donziger without a hearing based on Kaplan’s ruling that the attorney’s Ecuador team submitted bogus evidence, ghostwrote a court-appointed expert’s report and promised the judge who ultimately ruled a $500,000 bribe.
Donziger fought those findings, saying they were built on fraudulent testimony obtained through Chevron’s bribing of witnesses.
A court-appointed referee, John R. Horan, ruled on Nov. 8 that Donziger deserves a hearing to defend himself. He also questioned whether Kaplan violated Donziger’s constitutional right to due process.
Kaplan effectively “created a criminal indictment” and tried Donziger for conspiracy, Horan said.