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Amazon Defense Coalition: Chevron, Gibson Dunn Suffer Stiff Setback on Ecuador Pollution Case

Chevron and the much-vaunted Gibson Dunn litigation team have suffered a severe setback in California federal court in the company's longstanding effort to evade accountability for a $27 billion environmental disaster in Ecuador's Amazon.

U.S. federal judge Claudia Wilken this week threw out seven out of eight claims from a malicious prosecution case Gibson filed on behalf of Chevron against Cristobal Bonifaz, a sole practitioner who works out of his farmhouse in Massachusetts. Bonifaz was involved in the class action lawsuit that accuses Chevron of dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into Ecuador's Amazon.

Gibson, which has roughly 1,000 lawyers and recently won national "litigation firm of the year" from The American Lawyer magazine, was defeated by a small California firm, Kerr & Wagstaffe, which has only 11 lawyers.

The decision is an embarrassing one for celebrated Gibson partners Scott Edelman and Andrew Neumann, who were brought in by Chevron last year to take over the sprawling Ecuador litigation which now spans six different courts in three countries. Gibson markets its litigation team as "game changers" and is said to be billing the oil giant millions per month as it assumes control of the Ecuador litigation.

Chevron repeatedly has said it expects an adverse decision in the Ecuador matter. If the judge accepts the damages assessment, the company could be on the hook for one of the largest civil judgments in history.

Representatives of the Amazon communities have long charged that Gibson Dunn's legal team was hired to divert attention from Chevron's fraudulent conduct in Ecuador, which includes misrepresenting the results of a remediation to secure a legal release.

"Gibson Dunn likes to make wild accusations of fraud against lawyers who try to hold Gibson's clients - in this case Chevron - accountable for their unethical and criminal conduct against vulnerable people," said Pablo Fajardo, the Ecuadorian lawyer who represents 30,000 rainforest residents suing the oil giant.

"By trying to help Chevron get away with these atrocities, Gibson's lawyers are complicit in the human rights abuses of their own client," he added.

Chevron has admitted that Texaco (now part of Chevron) dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon when it operated a huge oil concession there from 1964 to 1990. Indigenous groups in the area have been decimated and rates of cancer and other oil-related diseases have skyrocketed, according to evidence before the court.

Chevron had claimed that Bonifaz had engaged in "malicious prosecution" when he brought a separate lawsuit (Gonzales v. Texaco) against the company in 2006 after he was discharged from the environmental case in Ecuador.

The Amazon Defense Coalition represents dozens of rainforest communities and five indigenous groups that inhabit Ecuador's Northern Amazon region. The mission of the Coalition is to protect the environment and secure social justice through grass roots organizing, political advocacy, and litigation. Two of its leaders, Luis Yanza and Pablo Fajardo, are the 2008 winners of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.

Published 14/05/2010

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