October 29, 2010 / 1:02 AM / in 9 years

UPDATE 1-Ecuador disbars judge who heard Chevron case

* Nunez recused himself in September 2009

* Chevron had accused him of misconduct (Adds company and plaintiffs response)

By Alexandra Valencia

QUITO, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Ecuador’s judicial authorities have disbarred a judge who had been accused of misconduct and involvement in a bribery scheme in a high profile oil pollution lawsuit against Chevron Corp (CVX.N).

Juan Nunez had denied any wrongdoing but recused himself from the case in September 2009 after he was recorded discussing the 18-year-old legal battle with men who secretly videotaped him using cameras hidden in a watch and a pen.

The lawsuit has triggered related legal actions in several U.S. courts and an international arbitration, and is being closely watched by the oil industry for precedents that could lead to other large claims against companies.

The Judicial Council said it had disbarred Nunez in a resolution dated Wednesday and seen by Reuters on Thursday. It said he had broken legal regulations by expressing his opinion on the case before its conclusion.

Residents of Ecuador’s Amazon region say faulty drilling practices by Texaco, which was bought by Chevron in 2001, destroyed big areas of the jungle in the 1970s and 1980s.

“The Council’s action shows that the court system is not biased against Chevron and is functioning properly,” said Karen Hinton, spokeswoman for the Ecuadorians suing Chevron.

“Chevron’s argument it can’t get a fair trial is a fantasy dreamed up to try and block our efforts to collect damages in the United States.”

Chevron has said Texaco cleaned up all the parts of the jungle that it was responsible for. The U.S. company welcomed the move against Nunez but said the case suffered from corruption.

“What Judge Nunez did was clearly wrong and it was obvious that he should be disbarred,” said Chevron spokesman James Craig.

The current judge in the lawsuit, Nicolas Zambrano, is the third Ecuadorean to hear the case. He took over this month, replacing Nunez’s successor, Leonardo Ordonez. [ID:nN01254625]

Chevron had called for Ordonez to be replaced, saying he failed to investigate evidence of collusion between the plaintiffs and a court-appointed expert who came up with what it said was a fraudulent damages assessment of up to $27 billion. (Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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