- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - A federal judge on Tuesday blocked U.S. courts from being used to collect a $9 billion Ecuadorean judgment against Chevron for rainforest damage, saying lawyers poisoned an honorable quest with their illegal and wrongful conduct.

“Justice is not served by inflicting injustice. The ends do not justify the means,” U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan wrote. The judge said it was a sad outcome to have to rule that the Ecuadorean court judgment “was obtained by corrupt means,” because it will likely never be known whether there was a case to be made against the San Ramon, Calif.-based oil company.

“It is distressing that the course of justice was perverted,” Kaplan wrote in a nearly 500-page ruling that followed a trial last year.

He said a New York City lawyer, Steven Donziger, and Ecuadorean lawyers corrupted the case in Ecuador by submitting fraudulent evidence, coercing a judge and arranging to write the multibillion-dollar judgment themselves by promising $500,000 to the Ecuadorean judge to rule in their favor.

Donziger, criticized heavily in the ruling, said he will seek an expedited appeal of “an appalling decision resulting from a deeply flawed proceeding.”

He said Kaplan was “wrong on the law and wrong on the facts.” He accused Kaplan of letting “his implacable hostility toward me, my Ecuadorean clients and their country infect his view of the case.”

In a statement, Chevron Corp. called the decision “a resounding victory for Chevron and our stockholders” and said any court that respects the rule of law will find the Ecuadorean judgment “illegitimate and unenforceable.”

The Embassy of Ecuador in the U.S., noting that Ecuador is not a party to the action, said in a statement that the ruling “does not exonerate Chevron from its own legal and moral responsibilities resulting from its decades of contamination of the rainforest that has endangered the lives, culture, and environment of countless poor, indigenous people.”

Meanwhile, attorney Juan Pablo Saenz, a lawyer for Ecuadoreans, said the decision “constitutes a mockery of the rule of law and will not serve to reduce the risk the oil company faces in the imminent collection of the sentence dictated against it by the Ecuadorean justice system.”

The case resulted from a long-running court battle between Amazon rainforest residents and oil companies.

In February 2011, a judge in Ecuador issued an $18 billion judgment against Chevron in a lawsuit brought on behalf of 30,000 residents. The judgment was for environmental damage caused by Texaco during its operation of an oil consortium in the rainforest from 1972 to 1990. Chevron later bought Texaco.

Ecuador’s highest court last year upheld the verdict but reduced the judgment to about $9.5 billion.

Chevron has long argued that a 1998 agreement Texaco signed with Ecuador after a $40 million cleanup absolves it of liability. It claims Ecuador’s state-run oil company is responsible for much of the pollution in the oil patch that Texaco quit more than two decades ago.

The Ecuadorean plaintiffs said the cleanup was a sham and didn’t exempt third-party claims.

The decision came in a lawsuit Chevron brought in Manhattan against Donziger and two of his Ecuadorian clients to prevent any of them from profiting from what the oil company characterized as a fraud.

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