Chevron v. Donziger: Looking for Miracles in Ecuador
(Editor's Note: The American Lawyer's Michael Goldhaber is filing regular dispatches from the Manhattan federal district court bench trial in Chevron Corp. v. Donziger. For background on the case, the parties and what it's all about, see the Litigation Daily's preview here.)
As the Chevron v. Donziger trial moved into its second week, Chevron Corporation's Ecuadorian trial counsel Adolfo Callejas described what he perceived as a series of corrupt overtures to fix the Lago Agrio oil pollution case that ultimately resulted in a $19 billion judgment against the oil company. "Miraculous offers," he called them.
Callejas took the stand for Chevron on Monday and Tuesday in the company's fraud and racketeering case against the holders of the Ecuadorian mega-judgment and their U.S. lawyer, Steven Donziger. First, Callejas testified that ex-judge Alberto Guerra contacted one of Callejas's colleagues by telephone so many times in 2009, at least once offering overtly to "fix" the case, that he urged his colleague to change his phone number. Then, in October of that year, Callejas said he received a call from a former clerk of the court, inviting him to meet directly with the judge who would write the final judgment, Nicolas Zambrano. The next miraculous offer came about a year later, according to Callejas' written direct testimony, when another colleague was approached by a friend, who said that Guerra said Zambrano wished to know whether Chevron would like ghostwrite a judgment in its own favor.
Callejas said he declined all these overtures and memorialized them, but didn't report them to authorities. When the Ecuadorians' counsel Julio Gomez of Gomez LLC pressed him for a reason, Callejas gave a remarkable answer.
"At least in Ecuador, there are constantly lawyers contacting other lawyers" with such offers, he said. "There was nothing to report—it was just another offer to fix the case."
When pressed further, Callejas said he was discouraged by the authorities' response to his claim that another judge, Juan Nunez, accepted an improper overture. "Not only was Nunez not sanctioned [permanently]," said Callejas, "but today he is still president of the Provincial Court of Sucumbios, which I consider to be a shame for the Ecuadorian judiciary."
When pressed further still, Callejas said that he did not disclose the miraculous offers because he feared for his own personal safety.
Gomez, who has shown a flair for cross-examination during the trial, responded by asking Callejas if he had ever been physically harmed since he began working for Texaco in 1978. "No," replied Callejas.
Then Gomez then asked one question too many. In all those years had he ever been threatened?
Well, Callejas noted, there was the time in 2009 when an effigy bearing his photo, dressed in prison garb, was beheaded by a costumed angel of death with a giant scythe. In his written statement Callejas testified that protesters led by the plaintiffs were shouting: "Let death bury him! Bury him face down so the one below likes it!" Then the effigies of Chevron's lawyers and CEO were placed in coffins, led outside Lago Agrio in a mock funeral march, and buried in shallow graves strewn with flowers by their mock widows. "If that was not an incitement to personal violence," concluded Callejas, his voice rising on the stand, "I don't know what would be."
Gomez's reply: "No more questions, Your Honor."
Callejas' testimony set the stage for the next big witness in Chevron's case: the avowed bagman for the Lago Agrio plaintiffs. Ex-judge Guerra is expected to testify Wednesday and Thursday that one miraculous offer was finally accepted—by Chevron's opponents.
Of related interest:
Chevron v. Donziger: A Dickensian Cheat Sheet
Chevron v. Donziger: Day One
Chevron v. Donziger: The Money Man
Chevron v. Donziger: The Scientists
Chevron in Ecuador: The Tapes the Plaintiffs Don't Want You to See
The Global Lawyer: Closing in on Truth and Justice in the Chevron Ecuador Case
The Global Lawyer: Kindergarten Lessons from Chevron in Ecuador
Forum Shopper's Remorse