By Bernard Vaughan
NEW YORK Oct 23 A former Ecuadorean judge
testified on Wednesday that he ghost-wrote rulings for a judge
who ordered Chevron Corp to pay $19 billion to villagers
whose land had been polluted by oil exploration.
The former judge testified at a trial in New York in which
Chevron accuses U.S. lawyer Steven Donziger of bribing the
Ecuadorean judges to win the award for the villagers.
Donziger has denied bribing the officials.
On the witness stand on Wednesday, the former judge, Alberto
Guerra, said he met in 2009 with Donziger and other
representatives of the villagers at Honey & Honey, a restaurant
Guerra said another lawyer representing the villagers had
already agreed to pay him $1,000 a month to ghost-write court
orders for the presiding judge, Nicolas Zambrano. Zambrano, who
was also being paid, agreed to expedite the case and limit
procedural avenues by which Chevron could delay it, Guerra said.
Donziger was fully aware of the arrangement, Guerra said.
"Mr. Donziger thanked me for the work that I was going to
do," Guerra said of the restaurant meeting.
Randy Mastro, a lawyer for Chevron, asked Guerra if he
understood he was violating Ecuadorean law by agreeing to
ghost-write Zambrano's orders.
"It hurts me to say so, but yes," Guerra, wearing a gray
suit, said calmly through an interpreter.
Guerra testified that Zambrano would typically give him
court documents on Friday afternoons, often outside a Quito
airport. Guerra would study them and prepare court orders over
the weekend before delivering them to Zambrano on Sunday
afternoons, he said.
Zambrano is also expected to testify in the trial.
Once Guerra started ghost-writing in the case, another
lawyer for the villagers would periodically meet Guerra on a
Quito street corner to deliver a blank envelope filled with
$1,000, denominated in $20 and $50 bills, Guerra said.
The U.S. dollar is Ecuador's official currency.
Some payments were also made directly into his savings
account, Guerra said.
Guerra is a key witness for Chevron, which is seeking to
discredit the $19 billion award.
Chevron wants U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is
presiding over the trial without a jury, to prevent Donziger and
villagers he represents from collecting the award in U.S. courts
or from profiting from it in any way.
The award stemmed from environmental contamination between
1964 and 1992 at an oil field in northeastern Ecuador operated
by Texaco, which Chevron bought in 2001. Chevron says Texaco
cleaned up its share of waste before turning the field over to
But in 2011, Zambrano awarded $18 billion to people from the
Lago Agrio area, which was affected by the pollution. The court
subsequently increased the award to $19 billion to cover fees.
Mastro asked Guerra to identify Donziger in the courtroom.
Guerra said Donziger was the person who had just smiled,
before describing the dark suit Donziger was wearing. "He knows
me. He has seen me. We've been together."
Donziger's lawyers are expected to cross-examine Guerra on
They have questioned Guerra's credibility, saying Chevron is
paying him for his testimony. In January, Chevron said it
relocated Guerra's family to ensure his safety and paid him
$38,000 for the costs of providing his evidence. Chevron also
confirmed that it agreed to pay Guerra's family $10,000 per
month for living expenses and $2,000 for housing. [ID:nL1N0AY0EX
Guerra, who had presided over the Ecuadorean case before
Zambrano, also testified that he and Zambrano initially offered
a similar proposal to Chevron.
"Judge Zambrano and I obviously believed that Chevron was in
quite a better financial situation than the plaintiffs," Guerra
A lawyer for Chevron said he would relay the offer, which
was rebuffed weeks later in a telephone call, Guerra said. The
lawyer said that "under no circumstances would Chevron agree to
any sort of agreement," Guerra said.
Zambrano, Guerra said, was "discouraged, dispirited," before
soliciting Donziger's team.
The case is Chevron Corp v. Steven Donziger et al, U.S.
District Court for the Southern District of New York, No.