U.S. attorney grilled over role in Chevron-Ecuador judgment

Mon Nov 18, 2013 7:45pm EST
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By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Steven Donziger, the U.S. attorney accused of using bribery to secure a multibillion-dollar pollution judgment against Chevron Corp (CVX.N: Quote) in Ecuador, took the witness stand for the first time on Monday and was immediately challenged on his claim that he was not in charge of the Ecuadorean case.

In a series of pointed questions, Chevron attorney Randy Mastro sought to undermine Donziger's claim that he did not lead the legal team in Ecuador but merely offered his advice.

"Isn't it a fact that you've described yourself as the lead lawyer?" Mastro asked.

"At times I have, yes," Donziger said.

Chevron filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court in 2011 claiming that Donziger used fraud to obtain an $18 billion judgment - later increased to $19 billion - for a group of villagers over the contamination of an oil field in northeastern Ecuador.

Last week, Ecuador's highest court cut the amount to $9.5 billion. Donziger has denied the bribery allegations.

The start of Donziger's testimony marked the most anticipated moment since the trial began last month, with more than 70 people in a packed courtroom looking on - including the musician Sting, who with his wife, Trudie Styler, has offered support for the villagers.

As part of his defense, Donziger has downplayed his role in leading the Ecuadorean litigation. In a witness statement filed with the court, Donziger emphasized that another lawyer in Ecuador, Pablo Ferjado, was the lead attorney and that Donziger served at the pleasure of the plaintiffs.   Continued...

Attorney Steven Donziger shows pictures of a pool of oil which has seeped out from an oil waste pit left behind by Texaco at an oil pump site near the Amazonian jungle in Quito, Ecuador, October 30, 2003. REUTERS/Franklin Jacome