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Posted: Jul 17, 2013 – 03:16 PM EST
NEW YORK, Jul. 17 /CSRwire/ - A New York federal judge long accused of making xenophobic comments about Ecuador has unfairly stuck indigenous groups in that country with an enormous bill for court costs that could total well over $1 million, documents reveal.
The Chevron Pit, a blog maintained by supporters of the Ecuadorian rainforest communities victimized by Chevron’s contamination, reported this week that Judge Lewis A. Kaplan is engaging in improper conduct by ordering that Chevron pay 100% of the fees of two Special Masters he appointed without allowing the indigenous groups and their lawyer to see their bills. Judge Kaplan has told Chevron that it can sue the Ecuadorians later for their portion of the fees.
The blog described the secret payment arrangement between Chevron and the Special Masters as “dreadfully improper” but said it was consistent with how Judge Kaplan had made rulings that deny a fair trial to the Ecuadorians and their U.S. lawyer, Steven Donziger. See here for a previous press release about Judge Kaplan’s bias.
Special Masters are lawyers appointed by a judge to make sure judicial orders are followed but are rarely appointed for depositions.
In the Ecuador matter, Judge Kaplan appointed to that role two of his friends and colleagues – Max Gitter and Theodore Katz – to oversee depositions where they were accused of bias against the Ecuadorians, according to the blog. At the time of their appointment, Kaplan ordered that the Ecuadorians and Donziger split the fees of the Special Masters – which run upwards of $750 per hour – evenly with Chevron, the nation’s third largest corporation.
The indigenous groups and Donziger had told Judge Kaplan repeatedly that they objected to the appointment of the Special Masters on several grounds, including the fact they did not have funds to pay their fees.
In his latest order, Judge Kaplan also indicated that he was prepared to enter a judgment on behalf of Chevron against Donziger and two representatives of the Ecuadorians who live in the forest, Hugo Camacho and Javier Piaguaje, for half of the amount of the bills if Chevron chose to pursue a claim. However, Judge Kaplan failed to order that the amount of the bills be disclosed.
The Special Masters have rejected repeated efforts by lawyers for the defendants to obtain their invoices out of a likely fear they would embarrass themselves for charging so much, according to the blog.
The full blog is printed below and can be accessed at The Chevron Pit via this link.
In addition to his own fees and expenses, Gitter informed the court recently that he was charging a “discounted” hourly rate of $630 for a young associate from a New York law firm, Cleary Gottlieb. That associate, Justin Ormand, recently was seen flying first class with Katz to Peru for depositions in the case, according to the report.
Gitter also has a documented history of animus toward Donziger. Acting on behalf of Judge Kaplan in an earlier phase of the case, Gitter ordered Donziger to sit for a 16-day deposition – thought to be a record for an active lawyer on a case. Donziger’s objection to Gitter’s appointment can be read here.
It is thought that the secret bills of Gitter and Katz for all phases of the case now total well over $2 million. The Ecuadorians make approximately $1,000 per year in income while Donziger is a human rights lawyer who works out of his small apartment in Manhattan.
Judge Kaplan also has been criticized for having a long history of bias against the Ecuadorians and Donziger. In an earlier phase of the case, an appellate court unanimously reversed Judge Kaplan for imposing an illegal injunction to block the Ecuador judgment. He also has referred to the indigenous groups as the “so-called” plaintiffs “said to reside” in the rainforest, among other comments that denigrated Ecuador’s judicial system and were interpreted as “xenophobic” by the Ecuadorians. See here, here and here.
Judge Kaplan was subject to blistering criticism recently from trial lawyer John Keker for trying to drown the Ecuadorians and Donziger in useless discovery motions and sap their limited financial resources. Read Keker’s motion here where he describes the judge’s “implacable hostility” toward Donziger and an article here from the San Francisco legal newspaper where he comments on Judge Kaplan’s mismanagement of the case.
The full blog can be read here.