Just weeks after US District Judge Lewis Kaplan prohibited the enforcement of a $9.5 billion Amazon rainforest pollution judgment against Chevron Corp., the company is seeking $32 million in attorney fees. On Tuesday, Chevron, the multi-billion-dollar oil giant, demanded $32 million be paid to Gibson Dunn and other outside counsel, Law360 reports.
On March 4, Judge Kaplan ruled that the unprecedented $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron was a product of fraud on behalf of Ecuadorian plaintiffs and their attorney Steven Donziger. The $9.5 billion judgment would have compensated Ecuadorians for Chevron predecessor Texaco’s dumping of more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater in the Amazon rainforest.
Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2011, drilled for oil in the Amazon between 1964 and 1992 and deliberately dumped billions of gallons of highly toxic sludge into more than 900 unlined, open-air waste pits, which have contaminated streams and rivers and continue to spread toxins that sicken local, indigenous populations. Water systems and food have been contaminated and hundreds of locals have died from cancers attributed to the pollution.
In his March 4 ruling, Kaplan said he found “clear and convincing evidence” that American attorney Steve Donziger used “corrupt means” to secure the multi-billion-dollar pollution judgment. Donziger has appealed the decision, which he called “appalling.”
“This decision is full of vitriol, is based on paid evidence from a corrupt former judge, and ignores the overwhelming evidence that Chevron committed environmental crimes and fraud in Ecuador,” Donziger said after the ruling earlier this month.
Chevron meanwhile called the judgment “a resounding victory for Chevron and our stockholders.” The company now says it is authorized to recover $32 million in attorney fees under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act under which it obtained the injunction prohibiting Donziger and Ecuadorian plaintiffs from monetizing the $9.5 billion pollution award.
Chevron’s counsel, Gibson Dunn, billed an average of $950 an hour for its partners’ work on the case, Law360 reports. About $18.9 million of the requested $32 million relates to discovery.
Donzinger’s lead appellate counsel said Chevron’s request for fees is a thinly-veiled attempt at intimidation on the tail of its recent victory. “Steven is a solo environmental lawyer who works from the kitchen table of his apartment. Chevron knows he can’t actually pay those fees – and that’s the point,” said lead counsel Deepak Gupta of Gupta Beck PLLC.
“This is a transparent attempt to intimidate anyone from ever having the temerity to sue over wrongdoing that, in this case, devastated thousands of people’s lives, their culture, and their environment,” he added.
In 2012, Chevron Corp. had a net income of $26.2 billion on sales and other operating revenues of $231 billion, according to its 2012 Annual Report. The company also increased its dividend payout to stockholders for the 25th consecutive year in 2012.
In 2009, a coalition of human rights activists released a report entitled, “The True Cost of Chevron,” which documents environmental and human rights abuses by the company. Earlier this year, Chevron was hit with a $5 billion lawsuit over a 2012 offshore gas exploration rig explosion off the coast of Nigeria that killed two workers.
Nigerian plaintiffs allege that the company failed to remove workers who were “pleading to be evacuated” from the rig, which kept drilling until the explosion engulfed the platform in flames. The suit says that Chevron was primarily concerned with profit and disregarded environmental and human health and safety.
Image via: True Cost of Chevron