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Chevron does not deny that it is incurring extraordinary legal expenses, which Mr. Crinklaw said are justified given the gross crimes involved in the case. “This is to protect our shareholders,” he said. “Our response is proportionate to the magnitude of the fraud that’s been committed” by Mr. Donziger and his clients.

“They engaged in a massive fraud in an attempt to extort Chevron. The evidence is overwhelming,” he said. “Many once associated with Donziger and his team, including funders, scientific experts and others, have all abandoned him as the evidence of fraud has been exposed.”

Environmentalists say Texaco’s dumping of untreated toxic drilling waste into unlined pits and Amazon streams from 1964 to 1992 created a far bigger environmental disaster than the 2009 Macondo oil well blowout that released millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico several years ago and was the worst-ever U.S. drilling accident. BP PLC, the oil company responsible for the Macondo incident, in contrast to Chevron, set aside billions of dollars to pay for cleanup and restitution for Gulf Coast residents, averting the kind of legal struggle embroiling Chevron.

Chevron knows it can’t defend itself on the merits, so it is trying to use its unlimited resources to try to crush the lawyers who have bravely defended our rights,” said Humberto Piaguaje, coordinator of the litigation for the rain forest communities and a leader of the Secoya indigenous group.

Chevron’s goal is to get rid of the lawyers so we will be defenseless in the face of the company’s contamination of our ancestral lands,” he said.

The court proceedings are extremely complex and have twists and turns that seem to come out of a medieval labyrinth, but the case is worth following because “it’s the most important environmental case of the 21st century,” said Paul M. Barrett, a columnist with Bloomberg-Businessweek.

“For all his flaws and misdeeds, Donziger has illuminated the corporate tendency to fumble away opportunities to do the right and reasonable thing in the first place — and thereby avoid liability traps,” he said. “For a relatively modest expense in the 1970s and ‘80s, Texaco could have lined its Ecuadorean waste oil pits and more safely disposed of ‘production water’ discharged into jungle streams,” avoiding today’s legal morass, he said.

Chevron has built a strong case that the Amazon judgment was tainted by fraud, and it wants to set an example that discourages foreign governments from using corrupt legal systems to try to swindle U.S. companies doing business overseas. “But these novelistic twists and turns don’t do anything to build Chevron’s business, enrich its shareholders, or improve the unfortunate lives of innocent Ecuadoreans,” Mr. Barrett said.

The case has so many plots and subplots that it’s hard for a layman to follow, though doing so is worthwhile, Mr. Barrett added. “To fully appreciate all the facets of this intriguing case, someone should write a book about it,” he said.