October 1stNS Steven Donziger was sentenced to a maximum of six months in federal prison by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York after being convicted of six criminal contempt in May. The released former attorney was denied bail while his attorneys are appealing the decision.
The sentence imposed after two years of house arrest, which was argued by UN experts from the body’s Human Rights Council, was a violation of international law, for which Donziger should be compensated. At least his lawyers are of the opinion that this time already served should be added to the prison term that threatens Donziger and that he should be released.
The dismissal and contempt charges stemmed from an earlier case in which Donziger and a group of his clients were targeted in Ecuador in a RICO lawsuit by Chevron that the former attorney had fought in at least two American jurisdictions for 20 years to seek redress more than 30,000 indigenous people in Lago Agrio, a region near the border of this country with Colombia. Texaco, which was purchased by Chevron in 2000, deliberately polluted land, rivers, and groundwater in the Amazon from 1964 to 1992, leaving disease, birth defects, and disease.
Chevron was also awarded $ 3.4 million in legal fees in 2014 after Chevron won the case against Donziger that denied him and his clients the right to collect their successful lawsuit in the United States. With additional court fees and fines, Donziger is liable for around $ 10 million.
As Donziger recently said, âI, along with other lawyers, helped indigenous peoples in Ecuador, a historical environmental judgment of 9.5 billion. That is a historical fact. This case was upheld on appeal by 28 appellate judges, including the highest courts of Ecuador and Canada for enforcement purposes. So why am I the one who’s getting locked up? I helped hold them accountable. ”
In a case that began in 1993 and went to court through 2011, plaintiffs representing Donziger won just over $ 18 billion in damages from Texaco (later reduced to $ 9.5 billion) from Texaco, a liability transferred to Chevron, who appealed the decision, sometimes claiming that they should not be liable for the actions of a company that bought them after the damage had already been done because they were never in that Country were active.
The contempt charge for which Donziger was convicted stemmed from his refusal to allow Chevron’s attorneys, who accused him and his colleagues of bribing the Ecuadorian judge in the 1990s, to access his computer and other electronic devices, as ruled by another district judge of the Southern New York State District, Lewis Kaplan. Donziger’s rationale for failing to hand over the materials, stating that he did not want to endanger his Ecuadorian clients who were exposed to threats of violence, was rejected by both Kaplan and Judge Loretta Preska, who led his trial, who accused the contempt.
Commenting on Steven Donziger’s treatment in US courts, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said: âThe indictment and detention of Mr. Donziger appear to be in retaliation for his work as a legal representative for indigenous communities for refusing to do so Disclose confidential correspondence with his clients in a very high-profile case against a multinational business enterprise. “
Chevron’s case relied heavily on the testimony of Ecuadorian judge Alberto Guerra, who was accused of accepting the bribe, who later publicly repudiated the testimony on which Chevron’s case against Donziger depended. Even so, Judge Kaplan’s original 2014 ruling was not overturned. It has been reported that Guerra received at least $ 326,000 and a car from the oil and gas giant and received the services of an immigration attorney after he was relocated to the United States by the company.
âI was attacked and demonized by Chevron for years in retaliation for helping indigenous peoples in Ecuador do something to save their cultures, their lives and our planet in the face of massive oil spills. That is the context why we are here today, âDonziger told the court after his conviction earlier this month.
The US district judge who sentenced Donziger, Loretta Preska, is a chairwoman of the right-wing Federalist Society in New York state, which is sponsored by Chevron. The group is committed to putting right-wing judges on the bench, and support from companies like Chevron ensures that the interests raised by the group put the interests of big business above the interests of common people like those in Ecuador, who always do Looting of their resources still suffer from the consequences of the group’s situation.
As Branko Marketic reports in Jacobin, this is nowhere near the first time Preska has had an apparent conflict of interest in a case she chaired. In 2012 she was a judge in the trial of Jeremy Hammond, who was accused of hacking, among other things, the private security company Stratfor. Despite her husband being a Stratfor customer whose data had been hacked, Preska refused to withdraw from the case. She sentenced Hammond to 10 years in prison after taking him into custody during the year-long trial.
Lewis Kaplan was also proven to have invested in Chevron through mutual funds, as indicated on the financial disclosure forms.
It should be noted that Donziger’s story has been treated in a very different way in much of the business press in an attempt to redress the inexcusable negligence and injustice of a faceless corporation.
In almost any other context, a Harvard-trained attorney like Donziger would be considered immensely privileged (and still is compared to his clients in Ecuador), but in trying to hold Chevron accountable, you have an army of attorneys and PR folks doing anything they can can ruin his reputation, deny him the right to make a living in his chosen occupation, and bring him and his family into poverty, the latter two of which are mostly successful.
The influence Chevron has exerted on US courts in its scorched earth campaign against Donziger is a worrying sign on many fronts. When it comes to climate change, if a fossil fuel company cannot be held responsible for the very obvious damage it has deliberately caused in the past, what chance does the environmental movement and civil society in general have? to involve them and prevent even larger, globalized disasters in the future?