A so-called environmental lawyer found to have falsified scientific evidence and bribed a foreign judge to shake down an oil company faces up to six months in jail after a Manhattan federal judge on Monday ruled he committed criminal contempt.
The Wall Street Journal reported, “Disbarred attorney Steven Donziger was found guilty of six counts of criminal contempt of court, the latest twist in a nearly three-decade crusade against Chevron Corp that began as an attempt to prove the oil company caused environmental harm in Ecuador.”
In the judgment, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska wrote that Donziger “repeatedly and willfully” defied court orders to hand over evidence, including his electronic devices and passport.
“It’s time to pay the piper,” Judge Preska added.
Donziger, 59, has been under house arrest for nearly two years while awaiting trial. He is expected to be sentenced in the coming weeks. His attorney had claimed the court allowed Chevron to advance an intimidation campaign against Donziger.
More details from The Wall Street Journal:
The contempt case, the judge wrote, has nothing to do with any responsibility Chevron might bear for pollution in the rainforest in Ecuador, where Chevron’s predecessors drilled for oil in the previously pristine jungle. The company has repeatedly denied any culpability.
Instead, “at stake here is the fundamental principle that a party to a legal action must abide by court orders or risk criminal sanctions, no matter how fervently he believes in the righteousness of his cause or how much he detests his adversary.”
Mr. Donziger said Monday he plans to appeal the decision, which he said “marks a sad day for the rule of law, for our democracy and for our planet.” His legal team recently asked Judge Preska to reconsider the terms of his home confinement, which hit its 700th day this month.
According to The Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Donziger first went up against Chevron’s predecessor Texaco Inc. in the early 1990s, when he represented native Ecuadoreans who claimed the company’s operations in the Amazon were sickening them.”
As The Daily Wire previously reported, in 2003, Donziger filed a lawsuit in Ecuador against Chevron, which had since bought Texaco, asking for money for environmental cleanup.
An Ecuadorian judge ordered Chevron to pay $9.5 billion in 2011. Chevron did not pay, contending that the judgment was the result of foreign judicial corruption.
Three years later, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan agreed, describing the situation as something “out of Hollywood.” Although Donziger and his team purportedly represented a class of 30,000 indigenous residents, they asked for any funds to go to a group that, as Kaplan described, “Donziger and some of his Ecuadorian associates controlled.” Donziger stood to gain more than $600 million in fees, plus “control of or influence over the billions” that would go to the group that would oversee the cleanup fund. According to the WSJ, Kaplan’s ruling “concluded Mr. Donziger and his colleagues corrupted the legal process in Ecuador by manufacturing evidence, pressuring judges and ultimately ghostwriting the final judgment in the case.”
In 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously upheld the U.S. ruling.
In 2018, an international tribunal at The Hague held that the judgment “was procured through fraud, bribery and corruption.”
In 2019, Judge Kaplan said that Donziger allegedly committed criminal contempt of court after his ruling by refusing to turn over evidence. The Southern District of New York federal prosecutor’s office declined to bring charges, saying it did not have the resources. Instead, Kaplan appointed a private law firm to try Donziger.
In Judge Preska’s judgment issued Monday morning, she wrote, “the Special Prosecutors have proven each element of criminal contempt of court beyond a reasonable doubt” and denied Donziger’s two post-trial letter motions seeking dismissal of those charges.
“Contrary to Mr. Donziger’s assertion that his conviction was ‘pre-ordained,’ the Court finds him guilty on each count for one reason and one reason only: Mr. Donziger did that with which he is charged. Period.”