NEWSMAKER-Ecuador judge works marathon hours on Chevron case

Mon Jan 31, 2011 1:00pm GMT

* Farmers sue Chevron for $27 bln in environmental damages

* Say company responsible for contamination in 1970s, '80s

* Judge stops answering phone to avoid threats, insults

* Ex-military officer Zambrano promises a fair ruling

By Hugh Bronstein

LAGO AGRIO, Ecuador, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Judge Nicolas Zambrano often leaves work so late he has to wake up the security guard to let him out of the courthouse and onto the dark and dangerous streets of this Ecuadorean jungle town.

Zambrano -- a solidly built former air force officer with a shaved head and penetrating brown eyes -- is hearing the $27 billion suit brought against Chevron Corp by local farmers who say the U.S. energy giant polluted the rain forest with faulty drilling practices in the 1970s and 1980s.

It is the biggest environmental damages suit ever tried. The company denies the charges and wants the case thrown out over allegations that plaintiffs' lawyers engaged in fraud and other improper conduct.

The chairs and sofa in Zambrano's office are littered with 100-page makeshift notebooks full of evidence, each packet held together with white string.   Continued...

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