By Sara Randazzo and Rebecca Davis O'Brien
NEW YORK -- Steven Donziger once stood to gain hundreds of
millions of dollars for winning a $9.5 billion
environmental-contamination verdict against Chevron Corp. in
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.
"Steven Donziger...has intentionally and repeatedly disobeyed
court order after court order after court order," Rita Glavin, a
private lawyer serving as the prosecutor, said during opening
Martin Garbus, an attorney for Mr. Donziger, said in his opening
remarks that his client "is innocent of every single charge." He
said the court had greenlighted an intimidation campaign by Chevron
against Mr. Donziger.
"Mr. Donziger takes his responsibility to his clients, the
people of Ecuador" seriously, Mr. Garbus said.
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
the U.S. Mr. Donziger denies he acted fraudulently in Ecuador.
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, including his paying an executive coach with a
pledge of 0.007% of any judgment collected from Chevron, out of Mr.
Donziger's share. Judge Kaplan later brought charges of criminal
contempt after Mr. Donziger's continued refusal to follow the
"He made the decision not to comply with that judgment from the
beginning," Ms. Glavin said Monday.
Ms. Glavin and the judge frequently interrupted Mr. Garbus's
opening, saying he wasn't addressing issues relevant to the charges
at hand. "This is not a press conference," Judge Preska said.
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
Ms. Glavin, a white-collar lawyer, to prosecute Mr. Donziger
Chevron isn't a party in the criminal contempt trial, though the
first witness called was a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
LLP, the law firm that represented Chevron in the racketeering
lawsuit against Mr. Donziger.
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 has used the home confinement and criminal trial to
rally activists and celebrities to support him.
Several dozen protesters, including the actress Susan Sarandon
and musician Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, joined Mr. Donziger
outside the courthouse Monday morning. Some wore "Free Donziger"
masks and carried signs denouncing the proceedings as a kangaroo
The two celebrities were among supporters who made it into the
courtroom for the trial, with others ushered to an overflow room.
Before the trial formally began, Mr. Donziger asked the court to
open more spaces for public viewers and to allow his clients in
Ecuador to listen remotely.
Judge Preska said she had staff working to free up more physical
space for viewers, but reaffirmed an earlier decision against a
remote feed, saying: "We are not permitted to broadcast a
Write to Sara Randazzo at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 10, 2021 16:19 ET (20:19 GMT)
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