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4 Jan 2012

Patrick Radden Keefe, New Yorker

[subscription or single article-payment required] Reversal of Fortune - A crusading lawyer helped Ecuadorans secure a huge environmental judgment against Chevron. But did he go too far?

[Lawyer Steven] Donziger [for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Chevron] has maintained that Chevron is motivated not merely by fear of an adverse judgment but by a desire “to destroy the very idea that indigenous people can bring an environmental lawsuit against an oil company.”…[A] local man named Donald Moncayo showed me around...At one fetid pit...he stepped gingerly onto the surface of the pool, where the solid matter in the produced water [resulting from oil drilling] had congealed into a tar-like crust...According to the plaintiffs, there are nearly a thousand of these pits in the Oriente...Chevron [has] declared the [eighteen billion dollar] judgment [against it] to be “illegitimate and unenforceable,” and said that the company, which has no assets in Ecuador, would not pay…As Randy Mastro [partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher representing Chevron] sees it, the for-profit players who are bankrolling Donziger’s efforts betray an underlying cynicism behind the plaintiff’s case. This suit is driven not by poor Ecuadorans, he told me, but by “lawyers and consultants and financiers.” Donziger’s ambition was certainly grandiose, but it seemed motivated as much by a combative idealism as by a desire for riches…He felt that he was creating a viable “business model for a human rights case."...