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Until few days ago, I was blissfully unaware of Steven Donziger, the Indigenous Peoples of Ecuador, Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan or the RICO charges leveled by Chevron Corp. against Donziger and his Ecuadorian clients.

That evening, after my daughter apprised me of the case and I spent some time reading about it in articles in Forbes and The Nation, I became not-so-blissfully unaware. Last night, I wished it had not left me awake.

You see, in many ways, the case reminded me of PFOA, and a movie. It reminded me of 2014 and the Elk River and something called MCHM. It reminded me of a terrible failure I and my colleagues in the Legislature of that time delivered by too readily accepting the suspect explanations given us by lawyers and lobbyists for international chemical/energy firms (only revealed as such after the negative consequences to public health became clear).

Note: After viewing “Dark Waters” for the first time, I contacted a former colleague and asked how it was that we didn’t recognize what was going on at the time. His answer? “They [the lobbyists/lawyers] sold us a bill of goods.” Indeed. I didn’t sleep well THAT night either.

In any event, Donziger’s clients apparently faced a similar situation in Ecuador. Chevron was accused of dumping millions of gallons of toxic waste into the environs of the indigenous people of the area (thousands of acres of the Amazon rainforest). Many of these native inhabitants banded together and hired Donziger to sue to clean up the mess (interestingly, none of the plaintiffs sought personal remuneration but chose only to ask for restorative relief for the land and water).

Donziger, et. al., won the case to the tune of $9.5 billion (reduced from $18 billion by Ecuador’s highest court). It should come as no surprise, granting what is going on currently with opioid litigation here, that none of that money has ever been paid. The case began in 1993 and was adjudicated in 2011.

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Chevron almost immediately began a counterattack, claiming Donziger had bribed an Ecuadorian judge (among other accusations), which led ultimately to Donziger being disbarred and subsequently being convicted by Judge Lewis Kaplan of New York’s 6th federal district of RICO Act charges brought by Chevron. It was a counterattack that could not only serve as a scorched-earth message to other potential litigants but also effectively end any thought that Chevron would pay up. (Which, to date, it has not.)

And that Ecuadorian judge whose testimony was critical to the RICO prosecution? He later recanted his testimony, after it was reported that he received about $326,000 from Chevron and the services of an immigration firm when they relocated him to the United States.

At the same time, the federal judge who prosecuted him for contempt did so through the services of a private attorney with ties to Chevron, after federal prosecutors refused to do so.

Was Donziger a miscreant, fire-engine chasing opportunist? A conman playing on the emotions of his clients? Or was he banished from his profession by a concerted and well-funded attack brought by a multinational corporation with extremely deep pockets? Is this a simple case of extortion or a cautionary tale about the American judicial system?

The strategies, employed by DuPont and Chevron, I believe, are not coincidental. That highway from Ecuador to the Elk River (I believe) was paved by the same intentions, and littered by the same half-truths and whole lies.

Somewhere along its length, it passed justice like a pay train passes a tramp.

Don Perdue, of Kenova, is a retired pharmacist and former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates.

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