BY JESSICA M. KARMASEK
NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who has repeatedly pushed for Chevron Corp. to settle an ongoing legal battle with a group of Ecuadorians suing the company, reportedly received thousands in campaign donations from the same group.
The newspaper, in a report Monday, points to a 2007 email from New York lawyer Steve Donziger, the lead plaintiff in the case against Chevron.
Donziger wrote that DiNapoli, who took office the same year, would be a good lobbying target, according to The Post.
The newspaper reported that Donziger sent another email about DiNapoli, telling an associate the group was delivering a "bunch of checks" to him.
The comptroller recorded a $2,000 donation from Donziger the day after the email was sent, according to The Post.
Now, some are calling into question DiNapoli's continued push for a settlement, in light of the donations.
Most recently, last month, he joined 39 other investors from the United States, Canada and Europe -- with a combined total of $580 billion in assets under management -- in sending a letter to the oil giant, asking it to resolve the lawsuit over damage to the Amazon rainforest.
As comptroller, DiNapoli serves as trustee of New York's $150.3 billion Common Retirement Fund, which owns 7.24 million shares of Chevron stock worth an estimated $713 million, benefiting more than 1 million public workers, retirees and their beneficiaries.
DiNapoli, citing an $18 billion judgment against Chevron, asked the company to seek a settlement to prevent "further shareholder damage."
"The time for delay is over," he said in a statement. "The company's attempt to undo the court's verdict only keeps the case in the public eye and further damages Chevron's reputation.
"Chevron's actions are hurting shareholders as well as the indigenous people of the rainforest. I urge the company's leadership to settle the case and put this issue to rest."
However, the company shows no sign of giving up.
Last month, a federal judge mostly upheld Chevron's complaint in a separate but related lawsuit over the $18 billion judgment.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, of the Southern District of New York, allowed the company's racketeering claims to continue, but dismissed other claims that included tortious interference.
More specifically, Kaplan's May 14 order upheld Chevron's complaint for racketeering, fraud, conspiracy and New York Judiciary Law 487, which provides for civil damages against an attorney who engages in deceit or collusion with intent to deceive a court.
"Chevron's extortion allegations are more than sufficient," the judge wrote in his 55-page order.
Hewitt Pate, vice president and general counsel for Chevron, has said the company is "eager" to move forward with its racketeering case against the Ecuadorians, calling the current judgment the result of "fraud" and "misconduct."
In January, an appellate court in Ecuador upheld the $18 billion judgment for Chevron's "intentional contamination" of the country's rainforest.
The adverse ruling was issued by a panel of three temporary judges presiding over the proceedings in the Provincial Court of Justice of Sucumbios in Lago Agrio.
The ruling, which stems from an environmental lawsuit involving Texaco Petroleum Company, confirmed a lower court's ruling in February 2011.
The lower court found Chevron liable for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon, causing an outbreak of disease and decimating indigenous groups.
Vowing never to pay the hefty judgment, the company filed its racketeering lawsuit in the New York federal court in response.
The company alleges that the Ecuador suit has been used to threaten the oil company, mislead U.S. government officials, and harass and intimidate its employees -- all to extort a financial settlement from the company.
In March, Kaplan had issued an injunction blocking enforcement of the judgment. However, in September, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordered that the injunction be vacated.
Last month's pleading wasn't the first time DiNapoli has pressed the company to come to a settlement.
In a letter in November 2008, DiNapoli asked Chevron's board of directors to come to an "equitable" settlement in order to avoid substantial penalties in the Ecuadorian court.
The company refused. Soon after, the court hit the company with the $18 billion judgment.
Then, in May 2011, DiNapoli and shareholders sent a letter to Chevron, again pleading for it to settle.
"In failing to negotiate a reasonable settlement prior to the Ecuadorian court's ruling against the company, we believe that Chevron displayed poor judgment that has led investors to question whether our Company's leadership can properly manage the array of environmental challenges and risks that it faces," the letter stated.
In October, DiNapoli took to the press to implore Chevron to end the 20-year dispute.
"Chevron, its shareholders and the general public have not and will not benefit from a never-ending courtroom drama," he wrote in a guest column on the Huffington Post's website.
In an interview with The Post this week, a spokesman for the comptroller said there is no connection between his requests for a settlement and the plaintiffs' donations.
DiNapoli's "interest in the case is directly attributable to the potential impact of a negative legal outcome that would have an economic impact on the (pension) fund," Eric Sumberg told the newspaper.
Sumberg told The Post that the Comptroller's Office declared its position in the Chevron lawsuit before DiNapoli took the office.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.