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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Judge denies jury trial in Chevron RICO case

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The federal judge overseeing a fraud lawsuit filed by Chevron Corp. has decided to deny the defendants in the case a jury trial.

The trial is set to begin Oct. 15.

Now, instead of pleading their case in front of a jury, New York attorney Steven Donziger and the Ecuadorians must do so before Judge Lewis Kaplan for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In his seven-page memorandum opinion Monday, Kaplan declined to order a jury trial in the case.
Last week, Chevron said it would drop money damages claims against Donziger if Kaplan tried the case. The oil giant already said it would drop money damages claims against the two Ecuadorians, Hugo Gerardo Camacho Naranjo and Javier Piaguaje Payaguaje.

Donziger and the Ecuadorians argued they are entitled to a jury as a matter of fairness.
“But that argument — even if it had merit, which it does not — is beside the point,” Kaplan wrote. “Insofar as is relevant to this case, the availability of trial by jury depends on one thing alone — whether the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution requires it.”

It does not, the judge said.

Kaplan explained that when a party — in this case, Chevron — withdraws its damages claims and pursues only equitable relief, a jury trial is no longer available and issues must be tried by the court.
“In such circumstances, trial by jury is available only if the parties and...
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