In filing civil a RICO suit on Feb. 1 against the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, U.S. trial lawyer Steven Donziger, his numerous Ecuadorian associates — lawyers and activists — the Amazon Defense Front and a Colorado consulting firm, Stratus, Chevron is seeking several major forms of relief. (Chevron complaint, news release.)
First, it seeks damages, including treble damages allowed under civil RICO, caused by the organized scheme to damage the company’ reputation, defraud the justice system, and extort billions of dollars from Chevron for supposed environmental damage from oil operations in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Second, the company seeks to prevent the defendants and their allies (co-conspirators according to Chevron) from aiding Ecuador in any way from enforcing a court order claiming any of Chevron’s assets. A judge in Ecuador could hand down a multi-billion judgment against Chevron based on fraud and conspiracy, and then the U.S. trial lawyers and their partners in the shakedown suit would try to get their piece of the prize by going after Chevron’s asset around the world. (For specific language from the suit, see the extended entry of this post*.)
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York is taking the issues raised by Chevron very seriously. In an order issued Thursday, the judge scheduled a “show cause” hearing next Tuesday in Manhattan over the granting of a preliminary injunction as requested by Chevron. The defendants are to:
show cause before this Court… why an order should not be issued, pursuant to Rule 65(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, temporarily enjoining and restraining, until after thee Court has had an opportunty to rule on Chevron’s application for a preliminary injunction “defendants and any persons acting in concert with them from funding, commencing, prosecuting, advancing in any way, or receiving benefit from, directly or indirectly, any action or proceeding for recognition or enforcement of any judgment entered against Chevron in Maria Aguidan y Otros v. Chevron Corporation, No. 002-2003 (“Lago Agrio Litigation”) currently pending in the Provincial Court of Justice of Sucumbios in Ecuador, or for prejudgment seizure or attachment of assets based on any such judgment.
A central strategy of the U.S. trial lawyers behind this shakedown lawsuit has been to corrupt the courts in Ecuador to gain a judgment and then to immediately use the courts around the world to seize or otherwise tie up Chevron’s assets, thereby increasing the pressure on the company to settle out of court.
Throughout the process, Judge Kaplan has been saying, “Not so fast.” Pretty soon, he may just say, “No.”