Picture this courtroom drama: With $19 billion at stake, Chevron’s (CVX) lawyers call to the stand a bribe-taking former judge to describe how he drafted phony rulings in a major pollution case. Chevron admits that, quite apart from his earlier graft, the company has paid the disgraced ex-jurist tens of thousands of dollars in a deal for his testimony. And still, the guy sounds pretty believable—at least under friendly questioning.
The odd scene—part John Grisham, part Gabriel García Márquez—unfolded yesterday in federal court in New York. Chevron is suing a plaintiffs’ attorney who won a $19 billion oil-contamination verdict against the oil company in Ecuador. In a bid to undermine that potentially expensive judgment, Chevron has accused the attorney, New York-based Steven Donziger, of masterminding an elaborate extortionate conspiracy. Central to the alleged plot is one Alberto Guerra, a former Ecuadorian judge who is now cooperating with the company and testifying about how he helped Donziger fix the 2011 pollution verdict.