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‘Time to Pay the Piper’: US Court Finds Chevron Foe Donziger Guilty on Six Counts of Contempt

© REUTERS / BRENDAN MCDERMIDFILE PHOTO: Attorney Steven Donziger, who won a multi-billion dollar-judgment against Chevron on behalf of Ecuadorian villagers, speaks to supporters with Singer Roger Waters and actor Susan Sarandon, as he arrives for his criminal contempt trial at the Manhattan federal courthouse in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., May 10, 2021.
FILE PHOTO: Attorney Steven Donziger, who won a multi-billion dollar-judgment against Chevron on behalf of Ecuadorian villagers, speaks to supporters with Singer Roger Waters and actor Susan Sarandon, as he arrives for his criminal contempt trial at the Manhattan federal courthouse in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., May 10, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 27.07.2021
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The Monday ruling came down as the environmental advocate had spent more than 700 days on house arrest as a result of the contempt charges that stemmed from the decades-old case regarding Chevron’s severe oil pollution in Ecuador.
A federal judge on Monday found lawyer and environmental advocate Steven Donziger guilty on six counts of criminal contempt, adding the latest bump in a long list of setbacks to a case that centered around justice for Ecuadorian natives subjected to extreme oil pollution.
US District Judge Loretta Preska outlined in a 241-page ruling that the case before her was “wholly unconcerned” with Chevron’s wrongdoing in Ecuador. 
“The court does not question the sincerity of Mr. Donziger’s espousal of his clients’ cause,” Preska wrote. “Nor does it quarrel with the sincerity of his belief that he has been treated unfairly by Chevron.”
“But 'a lawyer, of all people, should know that in the face of a perceived injustice, one may not take the law into his own hands.’ By repeatedly and willfully defying Judge [Lewis] Kaplan’s orders, that is precisely what Mr. Donziger did. It’s time to pay the piper,” she underscored.
The Kaplan ruling referenced by Preska came about in 2014, when Donziger was made liable for millions of dollars in Chevron’s legal fees, and also ordered to forfeit his laptop and mobile device - two items that contained sensitive information about his clients. Upon filing an appeal, Donziger was hit with misdemeanor contempt charges in August 2019 and forced into house arrest for nearly two years.
© AP Photo / Dolores OchoaOil floats in the water near a home in Lago Agrio, Ecuador on Aug. 4, 2008. Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has sided squarely with the 30,000 plaintiffs, Indians and colonists, in a class-action suit, dubbed an Amazon Chernobyl by environmentalists, over the slow poisoning of a Rhode Island-sized expanse of rainforest with millions of gallons of oil and billions more of toxic wastewater.
Oil floats in the water near a home in Lago Agrio, Ecuador on Aug. 4, 2008. Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has sided squarely with the 30,000 plaintiffs, Indians and colonists, in a class-action suit, dubbed an Amazon Chernobyl by environmentalists, over the slow poisoning of a Rhode Island-sized expanse of rainforest with millions of gallons of oil and billions more of toxic wastewater. - Sputnik International, 1920, 07.09.2021
Oil floats in the water near a home in Lago Agrio, Ecuador on Aug. 4, 2008. Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has sided squarely with the 30,000 plaintiffs, Indians and colonists, in a class-action suit, dubbed an Amazon Chernobyl by environmentalists, over the slow poisoning of a Rhode Island-sized expanse of rainforest with millions of gallons of oil and billions more of toxic wastewater.
Preska’s Monday declaration, which came after a five-day trial in May without a jury, was blasted by Donziger as an “obvious travesty of justice” that he would be appealing.
“Judge Preska’s decision today is the latest attempt by Chevron and its judicial allies to criminalize me and to send a message of intimidation to legitimate human rights lawyers who successfully challenge the major polluters of the fossil fuel industry,” Donziger wrote in a release.
“The decision marks a sad day for the rule of law, for our democracy, and for our planet.”
Donziger also took the opportunity to reiterate that Preska presents a clear conflict of interest in the case, especially as she happens to serve on the board of the Federalist Society, a pro-corporate organization of legal officials whose donors include Chevron. Additionally, the lawyer pointed out that Preska had previously assigned the law firm Seward & Kissel to prosecute the case, even though the firm had its own ties to the oil giant.
Speaking to Radio Sputnik’s Political Misfits ahead of the May trial proceedings, Donziger labeled the legal proceedings against him as being part of a “politically-corporate motivated attack,” adding that the case “shows the degree in which the Chevrons of the world can arrest control of our federal judiciary - our prosecutorial apparatus - and go after their critics.”
“We’re in new territory and if they’re allowed to get away with what they’re doing to me, this is the playbook they’re going to use against every activist and lawyer that deals with climate change - issues that are vital to the survival of the planet,” he stressed at the time.
© AP Photo / Dolores OchoaCofan indigenous women stand near a pool of oil in Ecuador's Amazonian region, Oct. 20, 2005. Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has sided squarely with the 30,000 plaintiffs, Indians and colonists, in a class-action suit, dubbed an Amazon Chernobyl by environmentalists, over the slow poisoning of a Rhode Island-sized expanse of rainforest with millions of gallons of oil and billions more of toxic wastewater.
Cofan indigenous women stand near a pool of oil in Ecuador's Amazonian region, Oct. 20, 2005. Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has sided squarely with the 30,000 plaintiffs, Indians and colonists, in a class-action suit, dubbed an Amazon Chernobyl by environmentalists, over the slow poisoning of a Rhode Island-sized expanse of rainforest with millions of gallons of oil and billions more of toxic wastewater. - Sputnik International, 1920, 07.09.2021
Cofan indigenous women stand near a pool of oil in Ecuador's Amazonian region, Oct. 20, 2005. Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has sided squarely with the 30,000 plaintiffs, Indians and colonists, in a class-action suit, dubbed an Amazon Chernobyl by environmentalists, over the slow poisoning of a Rhode Island-sized expanse of rainforest with millions of gallons of oil and billions more of toxic wastewater.
The Donziger-Chevron case dates back to the early 1990s, when the environmental advocate joined an investigative legal team that was examining various cases of severe pollution across Ecuador, many of which involved destroyed waterways and contaminated land being used by Indigenous communities.
The legal team ultimately determined that local communities that had been surrounded by dozens of oil wells had “significantly” high levels of stomach, liver, pancreas and skin cancers, a key finding that was outlined in a study by the group. The case and a subsequent lawsuit was filed against oil giant Chevron as it had acquired the oil facilities from the Texaco Corporation in 2001.
To note, one 1,700-square-mile area of land in Ecuador’s Lago Agrio region was so polluted that it has since been referred to as the “Amazon Chernobyl.”
Although the class-action lawsuit did see the Ecuadorian courts rule in favor of ordering $8 billion in compensation to affected parties in 2011, and a later increase by the Ecuadorian Supreme Court to $9.5 billion, the win was short-lived. Chevron has not paid one cent, instead opting to accuse Donziger’s team of offering bribes and collecting information through corrupt means in order to gain a favorable ruling. The case has remained in legal limbo.
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