Court Allows Chevron to Depose Lead Plaintiffs Lawyer in Ecuador Case
Judge based his ruling on 'extraordinarily revealing' outtakes from the documentary 'Crude'
The American Lawyer
October 22, 2010
If Southern District of New York Judge Lewis A. Kaplan's ruling Wednesday in In re Application of Chevron Corp., 10 MC 00002, stands, Chevron's counsel from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and counsel for two former Chevron lawyers facing criminal charges in Ecuador will be able to ask lead plaintiffs attorney Steven Donziger questions, under oath, about his alleged attempts to influence a supposedly neutral expert appointed by the Ecuadorean court to offer a global damages assessment. The judge also has ordered Donziger to produce documents related to his interactions with the expert.
Kaplan based his ruling on evidence Chevron produced from outtakes of the documentary "Crude," which chronicles the Lago Agrio case. He called the outtakes "extraordinarily revealing."
"The outtakes contain substantial evidence that Donziger and others were involved in ex parte contacts with the court to obtain appointment of the expert; met secretly with the supposedly neutral and impartial expert prior to his appointment and outlined a detailed work plan for the plaintiffs' own consultants; and wrote some or all of the expert's final report that was submitted to the Lago Agrio court and the Prosecutor General's Office, supposedly as the neutral and independent product of the expert," Kaplan wrote.
Moreover, the judge concluded, the outtakes contained evidence that Donziger lobbied for criminal charges against the former Chevron lawyers in order to pressure Chevron in the Lago Agrio case.
Based on that evidence, the judge found, the need to obtain evidence from Donziger outweighed the general prejudice against deposing adversary counsel in civil litigation, particularly because Donziger was not acting only as a lawyer for the Ecuadorian claimants (whom he cannot actually represent in Ecuador).
"His principal functions have included lobbying, media and press relations, and politics," Kaplan wrote. "He has acknowledged in the outtakes that the purported civil litigation in Ecuador 'is not a legal case. It's a political battle' in which 'we need to get the politics in order in a country that doesn't favor people from the rainforest.'"