Highlights from Testimony of Nicolas Zambrano, Ecuador Judge Who Issued Landmark Ruling Against Chevron


On Thursday, November 7, Nicolas Zambrano, the Ecuadorean judge who issued the landmark $19 billion judgment against Chevron in the Lago Agrio case, concluded his testimony in the oil giant’s retaliatory RICO trial against Steven Donziger and his Ecuadorean clients. Dr. Zambrano’s testimony—and his integrity—provided a stark counterpoint to those of Chevron’s star witness, disgraced former Ecuadorean judge Alberto Guerra, who testified earlier in the trial.

Guerra was brought to make Chevron’s most explosive allegations in its RICO case, that Zambrano ruled against Chevron in exchange for a bribe and that the judgment was ghostwritten by attorneys for the Ecuadoreans.

But Guerra’s testimony crumbled upon scrutiny, with him admitting numerous exaggerations and outright lies to Chevron in order to increase his “negotiating position” with the company, which is providing astounding compensation for his cooperation, including payments of more than $325,000, moving Guerra and his entire family to the U.S., private and immigration attorneys, and other perks.

Dr. Zambrano testified that he has received no compensation of any kind at any time and despite being subjected to insulting and hostile questioning, his testimony eviscerated the all-too-convenient “magic bullet” theory that Chevron managed to purchase in the form of Guerra’s contradictory and self-serving stories.

With the conclusion of Dr. Zambrano’s testimony in the trial today, here are some important notes and highlights from the RICO Defendants:

1) Strikingly, during his cross-examination of Dr. Zambrano, Randy Mastro never asked him about the most important issue at hand in this litigation, and for this witness—Chevron’s most explosive allegation—that he had supposedly promised to rule for the Lago Agrio Plaintiffs in return for $500,000. In fact, the entire subject was never broached by Chevron, strongly suggesting they were afraid of the answer. When asked by attorneys for the Defendants about whether he ever entered into such an agreement, Dr. Zambrano said no.

2) This morning, Dr. Zambrano explained his familiarity with a landmark Ecuadorian Supreme Court case he referred to as Caso Esmeraldas, stating in his testimony that he relied upon it in his ruling in the Lago Agrio case. A copy of that Supreme Court decision—whose complex theory of legal causation Dr. Zambrano cited, saying “the burden of proof is inverted,” referring to the principle akin to strict liability—was entered into evidence as Defendants’ Exhibit 1554. In that document, one will find numerous citations to the very English and French-language cases also cited at length in Dr. Zambrano’s judgment in the Lago Agrio case. This belies Randy Mastro’s contrived a-ha moment during his offensive pop-quiz questioning of Dr. Zambrano calculated to suggest the judge couldn’t have accessed such case law, when it has so clearly been laid out in a high-profile decision from Ecuador’s highest court that he testified to relying upon specifically.

3) Dr. Zambrano testified that his former associate and fellow judge Alberto Guerra offered him one million dollars, indicating that he was acting on behalf of Chevron. Dr. Zambrano stated emphatically that he rejected the offer, adding “nor would I consider it.” He also elucidated upon Guerra’s representations to be acting as a liaison for Chevron attorney Andres Rivero. Dr. Zambrano testified that a man identifying himself as Rivero called him and also said that he recorded his conversation as the man identified as Rivero offered him further “unseemly proposals.” The testimony was cut short by Judge Kaplan, but Defendants’ attorneys are following legal procedure over lunch to validate and enter into evidence Dr. Zambrano’s recording of his phone call from the man purported to be Chevron attorney Rivero (DX 85) as well as a transcript of that recording (DX 84).

4) In stark contrast to the astounding benefits provided by Chevron to Alberto Guerra, Nicolas Zambrano testified that he has not been paid for his time to travel to the United States, for his preparation, his testimony, or for providing evidence in this case.

5) The questioning by Randy Mastro—and allowed by Judge Kaplan—violated well-established legal doctrines that prevent a judge from being questioned about their legal reasoning or how they came to their legal conclusions of fact. That a judge from the United States would ever face such disrespectful and inappropriate questioning in another country is simply unimaginable. The challenges for a US court attempting to review another country’s judicial proceedings, including translating across language and cultural barriers that were on display during Zambrano’s testimony, highlight the importance of longstanding legal doctrines such as comity. This problem was exacerbated by Judge Kaplan, who, despite declaring ahead of Dr. Zambrano’s testimony that he wanted “to hear what this man has to say,” enforced a stilted yes-or-no response format during Chevron’s cross-examination. This format allowed Chevron to create misleading “gotcha” moments that are belied by Dr. Zambrano’s full testimony.

6) Lastly, in a case that is supposedly about Steven Donziger and the Ecuadorean Plaintiffs procuring a judgment by bribery and fraud, nothing in Chevron’s questioning of Dr. Zambrano had anything to do with these issues. Like so much of the rest of its courtroom antics these past few weeks, Chevron’s examination of Dr. Zambrano had nothing to do with its RICO claims, which remain utterly unsupported.