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Update on Chevron case: Donziger Takes the Stand

November 22, 2013

On Monday, Steven Donziger (U.S. attorney accused of bribing judges in order to win a multi-billion dollar judgment against Chevron) took the stand. His defense relied on downplaying his role in the case. He claimed that he was not the lead lawyer, passing that role off to a lawyer in Ecuador named Pablo Ferjado. Donziger’s testimony was the most anticipated part of this trial and there were more than 70 people in the courtroom (including musician Sting, whose wife offered aid and support to the villagers).

Randy Mastro, Chevron’s attorney, made a point of trying to undermine Donziger’s claim with a slew of questions. Randy questioned Donziger about the multiple times he referred to himself as lead lawyer, to which Donziger agreed that, at times, he had. Mastro also brought up the discrepancy in salary amounts between Pablo Ferjado, the lawyer in charge according to Donziger, and Donziger who were making $24,000 and $150,000 respectively. This was done to discredit Donziger’s statement “I work for them; they do not work for me.” In addition, Randy Mastro pointed to “Donziger’s 2011 retainer agreement, which called for him to receive nearly one-third of any contingency fee. Even with the award slashed in half last week, his portion would still be worth $600 million”.

Donziger did admit to “paying a supposedly independent court-appointed expert in Ecuador out of a secret account; altering the expert’s report hours before it was submitted to the court; and receiving an e-mail from his co-counsel soon after a new judge was assigned to his multibillion-dollar pollution lawsuit against Chevron, saying ‘the puppeteer won’t move his puppet unless the audience pays.'” Days following that e-mail, $1000 dollars was moved to and given to Alberto Guerra (a former Ecuadorean judge who testified against Donziger – refer to previous posts for more details). Donziger claims that he was simply following laws in Ecuador and that Chevron’s attorneys are taking things out of context.

Although some believe there is enough evidence to make a case that Donziger violated civil racketeering laws, others do not think that Randy Mastro has made a case. Chris Gowen, spokesman, said the following after the first day of cross-examination:

Viewing Randy Mastro’s cross-examination of Steven Donziger today, one could be forgiven for thinking Mr. Mastro is a bad lawyer but I can assure you he is one of the best lawyers in the country. Unfortunately, when you are cross-examining someone who is telling the truth and you have no case against him, not even Perry Mason would look good, Randy Mastro failed to establish a single legal claim against Mr Donziger.

On the other hand, according to Randy Mastro “this case is proving that when reality doesn’t jibe with the fiction that’s being presented to foreign courts, there are ways to remedy that fiction, expose it, and remedy it and we’ve been honored to help Chevron do that.”


Source: Reuters and Forbes

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