Trial Begins for Lawyer Who Sued Chevron over Ecuador Pollution
By Sara Randazzo
Steven Donziger once stood to gain hundreds of millions of
dollars for winning a $9.5 billion environmental-contamination
verdict against Chevron Corp. in Ecuador.
Now, that judgment has been discredited, Mr. Donziger has lost
his New York law license, and he is on trial for criminal charges
that he flouted a judge's orders.
The contempt-of-court trial that started Monday before U.S.
District Judge Loretta Preska is the latest twist in a legal saga
involving Chevron and Mr. Donziger that has lasted nearly three
decades and spanned the globe.
Mr. Donziger first sued Chevron predecessor Texaco Inc. in New
York in 1993 on behalf of native Ecuadoreans who alleged the
company's oil operations in the Amazon were sickening them. The
dispute later moved to Ecuador, where a judge in 2011 issued the
$9.5 billion judgment against Chevron.
The San Ramon, Calif.-based oil company has spent the past
decade punching back, securing a U.S. court decision finding that
Mr. Donziger and his colleagues corrupted the legal process in
Ecuador by manufacturing evidence, pressuring judges and ultimately
ghost writing the final judgment in the case.
Those conclusions came in a 2014 ruling by U.S. District Judge
Lewis Kaplan that also ordered Mr. Donziger to relinquish his 6.3%
contingency fee interest in the case to Chevron and forbade him
from profiting from the Ecuador judgment or trying to enforce it in
Mr. Donziger is now going to trial over his alleged refusal to
abide by those orders, and for not complying with Judge Kaplan's
order to turn over all of his email accounts and electronic devices
to a forensic expert for Chevron's eventual use. Judge Kaplan found
him in civil contempt of court after Chevron repeatedly told the
judge of instances the company said showed he was still profiting
from his fraud. Judge Kaplan later brought charges of criminal
contempt after Mr. Donziger's continued refusal to follow the
Mr. Donziger, 59 years old, has been under home confinement in
his apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side since Judge Kaplan
called for the criminal contempt trial in August 2019. An ankle
bracelet tracks his every move, and he is unable to leave his home
without court permission. His contempt trial has been delayed
repeatedly, both by the coronavirus pandemic and requests by Mr.
Donziger to hire new lawyers.
The Manhattan U.S. attorney's office declined to prosecute Mr.
Donziger, saying it didn't have the resources. Judge Kaplan named
Rita Glavin, a white-collar lawyer, to prosecute Mr. Donziger
Mr. Donziger has accused the court and Ms. Glavin of vindictive
and selective prosecution, claims Judge Preska ruled last week were
"Mr. Donziger's speculation that the universe is conspiring
against him is not a basis for compelling disclosure," Judge Preska
has written twice in rejecting his requests to probe into ties
between the court, prosecution and Chevron.
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, which represented Chevron in
the racketeering lawsuit against Mr. Donziger, said in a recent
filing that his requests for documents from the firm were based on
"delusional conspiracy theories." Chevron isn't a party in the
criminal contempt trial.
The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March denied Mr.
Donziger's request to lift his home confinement, upholding Judge
Preska's determination that his deep ties to Ecuador made him a
Mr. Donziger, who denies he acted fraudulently in Ecuador, has
used the home confinement and criminal trial to rally activists and
celebrities to support him. A group of Nobel Laureates wrote a
letter calling for his release from home confinement. Members of
Congress including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) and
Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.), a college classmate of Mr.
Donziger's, wrote a letter last month to U.S. Attorney General
Merrick Garland asking him to review the case.
During oral arguments in March in front of the Second Circuit,
an attorney for Mr. Donziger said it would be illogical for his
client to flee for a life in exile, when the harshest sentence for
a misdemeanor contempt conviction would be six months in
"It is insane to think a man who has fought at every single turn
is suddenly going to run for the hills," the lawyer, Scott
Ms. Glavin disagreed, saying Mr. Donziger hadn't shown himself
to be trustworthy. "This is a very unique case," she told the
appellate court. "I haven't seen anything like it. I certainly hope
I don't again."
Write to Sara Randazzo at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 10, 2021 12:42 ET (16:42 GMT)
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