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Court hears Steven Donziger’s criminal appeal in Chevron saga

Court hears Steven Donziger’s criminal appeal in Chevron saga


A federal appeals court in Manhattan heard dueling arguments Tuesday over whether to throw out the criminal conviction of environmental lawyer Steven Donziger on constitutional grounds.


Donziger has been imprisoned since Oct. 27 for criminal contempt in connection with his long-running legal battle with Chevron Corp over oil pollution in Ecuador. His lawyers say the private attorneys appointed as special federal prosecutors in his contempt case lacked supervision by a higher U.S. authority, violating the Constitution’s Appointments Clause.

Arguing before a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Donziger’s lawyer Stephen Vladeck said Tuesday that because the special prosecutors acted as officers of the United States without proper supervision, the court must exercise its authority by reining them in.

“Whatever powers district courts still have to appoint a prosecutor to try criminal contempt, that power must be limited,” Vladeck said.

One of the special prosecutors, Rita Glavin, countered that “I do want to say for the record that at no point did we state that we were not under the supervision of the attorney general.”

Donziger, who was disbarred in New York last year, was charged in 2019 with failing to turn over his computer and other electronic devices in the Chevron pollution case. In that case, a Manhattan judge in 2014 barred enforcement in the United States of a $9.5 billion judgment that Donziger won against Chevron in Ecuador, finding it was secured through bribery, fraud and extortion.

A federal judge in Manhattan appointed the special prosecutors after the Department of Justice declined a court referral to prosecute him.

During Tuesday’s arguments, U.S. Circuit Judge Steven Menashi asked Glavin, “if the policy of the United States was they don’t want Mr. Donziger prosecuted, you would abide by that policy?”

“If they directed me to take that position in court, yes,” Glavin responded, adding later that she was subject to “a mix of judicial and executive supervision.”

Justice Department attorney Robert Parker told the panel that the special prosecutors were not acting as officers of the United States to begin with, undercutting Donziger’s Appointments Clause argument.

Donziger, meanwhile, has continued to generate support outside the courtroom. On Monday, nine members of Congress sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking his office to “rectify the unprecedented and unjust imprisonment of Mr. Donziger.”

The case is United States v. Donziger, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-2486.

Source:

Sebastien Malo via Reuters



Six-Month Sentence for Lawyer Who Took on Chevron Denounced as ‘International Outrage’

Six-Month Sentence for Lawyer Who Took on Chevron Denounced as ‘International Outrage’


Conviction of Steven Donziger, said one critic, “perfectly encapsulates how corporate power has twisted the U.S. justice system to protect corporate interests and punish their enemies.”


Environmental justice advocates and other progressives on Friday condemned a federal judge’s decision Friday to sentence human rights lawyer Steven Donziger to six months in prison—following more than two years of house arrest related to a lawsuit he filed decades ago against oil giant Chevron.

The sentence, delivered by U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska in New York City, represents “an international outrage,” tweeted journalist Emma Vigeland following its announcement.

Donziger’s sentence came a day after the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said it was “appalled” by the U.S. legal system’s treatment of the former environmental lawyer and demanded the U.S. government “remedy the situation of Mr. Steven Donziger without delay and bring it in conformity with the relevant international norms” by immediately releasing him.

Donziger represented a group of farmers and Indigenous people in the Lago Agrio region of Ecuador in the 1990s in a lawsuit against Texaco—since acquired by Chevron—in which the company was accused of contaminating soil and water with its “deliberate dumping of billions of gallons of cancer-causing waste into the Amazon.”

“Chevron caused a mass industrial poisoning in the Amazon that crushed the lives of Indigenous peoples. Six courts and 28 appellate judges found the company guilty. Fight on.”

Steven Donziger

An Ecuadorian court awarded the plaintiffs a $9.5 billion judgment in 2011—a decision upheld by multiple courts in Ecuador—only to have a U.S. judge reject the ruling, accusing Donziger of bribery and evidence tampering. Chevron also countersued Donziger in 2011. 

In 2019, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Southern District of New York—a former corporate lawyer with investments in Chevron—held Donziger in contempt of court after he refused to disclose privileged information about his clients to the fossil fuel industry. Kaplan placed Donziger under house arrest, where he has remained under strict court monitoring for 787 days.

In addition to Kaplan’s own connections to Chevron, the judge appointed private attorneys to prosecute the case, including one who had worked for a firm that represented the oil giant.

Preska, who found Donziger guilty of the contempt charges in July, is a leader of the right-wing Federalist Society, which counts Chevron among its financial backers.

“As I face sentencing on Day 787 of house arrest, never forget what this case is really about,” tweeted Donziger on Friday morning, as he awaited the sentencing. “Chevron caused a mass industrial poisoning in the Amazon that crushed the lives of Indigenous peoples. Six courts and 28 appellate judges found the company guilty.”

Donziger indicated Friday afternoon that he plans to appeal the sentence.

“Stay strong,” he tweeted along with a photo from a rally attended by his supporters Friday.

350.org co-founder and author Bill McKibben said on social media that Donziger “deserves our thanks and support” for “daring to point out that Big Oil had poisoned the rainforest.”Rick Claypool, research director for Public Citizen, tweeted that Donziger’s case “perfectly encapsulates how corporate power has twisted the U.S. justice system to protect corporate interests and punish their enemies”—noting that as Donziger is ordered to prison for six months, members of the Sackler family recently won immunity from opioid lawsuits targeting their private company, Purdue Pharma.

“This ruling was done to deter ANYONE from crossing corporate special interests,” said progressive former congressional candidate Jen Perelman.

Source:

Julia Conley at Common Dreams