Steven Donziger
Steven Donziger ()

Lawyers for New York attorney Steven Donziger and a group of Ecuadorean environmental plaintiffs reloaded this week in their epic fight with Chevron Corporation, asking an appeals court to vacate a finding that Donziger procured a $9.5 billion judgment against the oil giant through wholesale fraud.

Donziger’s prominent appellate lawyer, Deepak Gupta of Gupta Beck, filed a 136-page opening brief for his embattled client late Wednesday at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Gupta urged the court to rule that U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan overstepped his authority and ignored key evidence when he concluded in March that the Ecuadorean judgment against Chevron was fatally tainted by judicial bribery and other misconduct involving Donziger. Kaplan’s ruling was viewed as a critical step in Chevron’s campaign to block the Ecuadoreans from collecting on their judgment worldwide.

Gupta argues that Kaplan improperly allowed Chevron to use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to attack a foreign judgment. He maintains that any taint on the original judgment was removed when an Ecuadorean appeals court reviewed the record and affirmed Chevron’s liability. And he argues that Kaplan thumbed his nose at the Second Circuit’s own January 2012 ruling in an earlier appeal in the Chevron case, in which the court chastised Kaplan for presuming to dictate to other countries which international judgments merit enforcement.

The same contentions have been repeatedly shot down by Kaplan in the underlying racketeering case against Donziger, which Chevron filed shortly before an Ecuadorean court ruled in 2011 that the oil company owes billions for fouling a huge swath of Amazon rainforest. Still, while Gupta’s brief doesn’t raise many new legal arguments, it offers a spirited critical account of Chevron’s efforts to discredit Donziger and the Ecuadorean plaintiffs. Gupta accuses Chevron of submitting to the authority of Ecuador’s courts and then abusing them, of buying witnesses, and of concocting allegations against Donziger in order to deflect attention from its toxic environmental legacy and shirk its legal obligations.

Chevron and its lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher are bound to offer an equally vigorous counternarrative in their own brief to the Second Circuit. Beyond the evidence of fraud that Gibson Dunn has amassed over the years, Chevron may point to its May settlement with Patton Boggs, in which the firm effectively capitulated to claims that it agreed to advise the Ecuadoreans on enforcing a fraudulent judgment.

Appellate powerhouse Theodore Olson of Gibson Dunn is leading Chevron’s case at the Second Circuit. Gibson Dunn’s Randy Mastro, lead counsel in the district court litigation and a favorite punching bag for Chevron’s critics, wasn’t immediately available to comment on Wednesday’s filing.

Two Ecuadorean defendants named in Chevron’s racketeering case filed a lengthy appellate brief of their own on Tuesday. The Ecuadoreans, Hugo Gerardo Camacho Naranjo and Javier Piaguaje Payaguaje, are represented by Burt Neuborne of New York University Law School and NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice. Eric Bloom of Winston & Strawn, who represents the Republic of Ecuador, asked the Second Circuit late last month for leave to file an amicus brief in the case.