| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Nov 18 Steven Donziger, the U.S.
attorney accused of using bribery to secure a
multibillion-dollar pollution judgment against Chevron Corp
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
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.
"I work for them; they do not work for me," Donziger
During 90 minutes of questioning, Mastro sought to undermine
that claim, focusing on the fees Donziger stands to collect if
the judgment is enforced.
He asked Donziger about invoices that showed he was earning
approximately $150,000 a year, while Ferjado was paid closer to
"But you say you work for him," Mastro said. "He doesn't
work for you?"
"Yes," Donziger said.
"He must be a very generous boss," Mastro said
sarcastically, earning a rebuke from the judge.
Mastro also pointed to Donziger's 2011 retainer agreement,
which called for him to receive nearly one-third of any
contingency fee. Even with the award slashed in half last week,
his portion would still be worth $600 million, Mastro said.
He quoted Donziger in various documents referring to himself
as the "lead lawyer," saying he had an "integral role" in
shaping strategy and giving instructions to the rest of the
Ferjado himself referred to Donziger as "cabeza," the
Spanish word for head, and as "commander," though Donziger
insisted the latter was a joke.
The Ecuadorean judgment was based on contamination between
1964 and 1992 at an oil field operated by Texaco, later acquired
by Chevron. Chevron claims that Texaco cleaned the site after
ceasing operations and handing control of the field over to
Since 2011, the villagers have sought to enforce the
judgment against Chevron entities in Canada, Brazil and
Argentina, since Chevron no longer holds any assets in Ecuador.
The company hopes a victory before Kaplan would give it
ammunition to fight such efforts in foreign courts.
A former Ecuadorean judge testified during the trial that he
was paid to ghost-write orders for the judge who issued the
judgment and that Donziger was aware of the scheme. The judge
who released the decision, Nicolas Zambrano, denied taking
bribes in his testimony.
Donziger is expected to continue testifying on Tuesday.
Chevron previously asked Kaplan to strike large portions of
Donziger's witness statement as irrelevant, a decision Kaplan
has not yet made.
The case is Chevron Corp v. Steven Donziger et al, U.S.
District Court for the Southern District of New York, No.