SAN RAMON, Calif. (AP) — Chevron Corp. on Tuesday filed a countersuit against trial lawyers and their consultants for what it says was a campaign to rig the Ecuadorean court system in a bid to win billions of dollars in a pollution claim.
The step is the latest in an 18-year-old court battle that Chevron says is driven by U.S. trial lawyers looking for a big payday, not the 30,000 Ecuadoreans who are allegedly victims of environmental damage due to oil exploration and extraction.
The countersuit, which includes federal racketeering claims, was filed with the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit in Ecuador argue that Texaco Inc., which became a subsidiary of Chevron in 2001, contaminated their land over three decades. Chevron, which is based in San Ramon, has long argued that a 1998 agreement Texaco signed with Ecuador after a $40 million cleanup absolves it of any further liability.
Among the complaints in its countersuit, Chevron accuses consultants of ghost-writing an expert report that pegged environmental damages at more than $27 billion. It cited outtakes from the documentary “Crude,” which it obtained by court order, along with other evidence that it says proves the plaintiffs’ representatives also fabricated a peer review validating the report.
It specifically names the plaintiffs’ New York-based lawyer, Steven Donzinger, as well as Stratus Consulting, based in Boulder, Colo., for the alleged fraud. The suit asks the court to declare any judgment against it in Ecuador to be the result of fraud and therefore be unenforceable. It also seeks to recoup its legal fees.
A verdict in Ecuador is still pending.
The plaintiffs’ spokeswoman, Karen Hinton, said Chevron’s countersuit is an act of “corporate bullying.” She also accused Chevron of fudging evidence, including asking a contractor to switch contaminated soil samples with clean ones to present to the court.
Donzinger’s attorney, Gerald Lefcourt, said in a statement that the countersuit was meant to “distract attention away from the decision we expect, which will require Chevron to clean up the mess it left” in Ecuador.