Judicial Imperialism

El Diario
25 May 2011

A judge with a superiority complex is making a devastating environmental situation worse by siding with the U.S. company that wreaked the havoc.

In New York, Federal district Judge Lewis Kaplan is turning back a legal decision that makes Chevron responsible for a terrible oil spill in Ecuador. That contamination has damaged part of its rainforest and affected the health of thousands of indigenous people.

Ecuador's Supreme Court in February ordered the oil giant to pay $8 billion for environmental cleanup in the Ecuadorian Amazon. This came after an 18-year litigation. The compensation is one of the highest of any judicial ruling for environmental damage.

As expected, Chevron has tried to appeal it. The corporation, which initially insisted on carrying out the case in Ecuador (instead of the United States, where the lawsuit was first presented), has now sought out protection in U.S. courts. Chevron’s lawyers claim that there was fraudulent evidence and corruption of the judicial system in Ecuador.

Kaplan not only accepted the defense's arguments, but also stirred in his criticism and mockery of the Ecuadorian judicial system. He issued an injunction that impedes the plaintiffs from obtaining compensation until the case has received more legal attention here in the United States.

The last time we checked, Ecuador is a nation as sovereign as ours, with the authority to explain its laws and resolve its own disputes. Any scrutiny to legal decisions made by foreign judicial systems should, at least, be done with respect. And what matters here is accountability, the health of people and the natural resources that were damaged.

What authority Kaplan has to challenge a decision made by another country is in question. But what is clear is that Kaplan is biased against Ecuador's political and judicial systems. It’s an interesting standard considering that when the judicial system here stumbles, we don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

Kaplan should get off his chauvinistic bench and travel to Ecuador to appreciate the devastation.