Judge’s Message to Anti-Chevron Lawyer: No Excuses

By November 22, 2010Briefly Legal, Energy, General

Steven Donziger, the U.S. trial lawyer who has directed the infamous $113 billion litigation shakedown against Chevron, is scheduled to appear in court in the Southern District of New York.  Donziger, who could make millions in a successful lawsuit against Chevron, is being held accountable by the U.S. judicial system.

Last week Judge Lewis Kaplan ordered Donziger to appear today with all the documents sought by Chevron so the company can defend itself from the accusations that its predecessor company, Texaco, left environmental damage behind after operations in Ecuador. (Updated and revised: The court hearing is at 2 p.m.)

Do we detect a level of judicial frustration in Kaplan’s order? Consider the judge’s hand-written note, which reads:

“ORDERED that this order shall not be construed* to imply that Donziger is not already in violation of a previous order that required the production forthwith of all documents responsive to the subpoena.”

Revelations from outtakes from the documentary-style film about the litigation, “Crude,” have already revealed Donziger and his team of activists to be manipulating the Ecuadorian judicial system, orchestrating bogus expert reports, and mounting a cynical, arrogant and dishonest public relations campaign to bludgeon Chevron into a settlement.

Kaplan has rebuffed Donziger’s claims that the New York trial lawyer’s actions in Ecuador are protected by attorney-client privilege  — he’s really running a political/PR operation   — and so must answer Chevron’s questions and provide documents sought by the company.

Chevron’s memorandum of law in support of its motion to require Donziger to produce documents does an excellent job of summarizing the games the U.S. trial attorney has played to avoid accountability, including appeals to the Second Circuit. After numerous delays, Donziger submitted a “privilege log” more than 2,000 pages long to claim he did not have to produce 8,562 documents.

Everything’s off limits! As Chevron’s attorneys from Gibson Dunn note: “Donziger even claims that communications with rock musician Sting’s wife, Trudie Styler, who appears with Donziger in the movie, Crude, as a celebrity touring the Rainforest, are somehow privileged.”

Chevron continues:

Indeed, as Your Honor has already ruled, the vast majority of Mr. Donziger’s activities here “have little to do with the performance of legal services and a great deal to do with political activity, intimidation of the Ecuadorian courts, attempts to procure criminal prosecutions for the purpose of extracting a settlement, and presenting a message to the world media.” …Therefore, he cannot possibly have any valid privilege claim concerning the overwhelming majority of his communications. But in those very rare instances where he might conceivably have one, his repeated failure to timely file a privilege log constitutes a waiver of any such privilege claim.

In its legal memorandum, Chevron asserts that Donziger is in contempt of court. That’s a legal conclusion that only Judge Kaplan can make, but it seems clear the games played by Donziger and crew have tested the judge’s patience. Accountability is coming Donziger’s way, and he may find it very painful.

Earlier blogging.

* UPDATE (12:54 p.m.): We misread the judge’s note, which uses the word “construed” — not “constructed.” Corrected.

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