Donziger Found Guilty on Contempt Charges Related to Chevron-Ecuador Case

by | Jul 26, 2021


Donziger at a press conference after losing the RICO case in 2014. (RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP via Getty Images)

A federal judge has found attorney Steven Donziger guilty on six counts of criminal contempt related to an $18 billion dollar judgement he helped Indigenous Ecuadorians win from Chevron over toxic waste left behind in the Amazon.

In a 245-page ruling issued Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Preska determined that a team of specially appointed private prosecutors led by attorney Rita Glavin proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Donziger was “repeatedly and willfully defying Judge Kaplan’s orders.”

The charges stem from a 2014 racketeering judgement that barred Donziger from profiting from the collection of the damages in the Ecuadorian judgement, an award that was upheld at all levels of that country’s judiciary.

When Chevron suspected Donziger of violating that ban, the oil giant asked Kaplan and the New York court to investigate, and Donziger was asked to hand over his computer and cell phone to the court, along with any communications related to the case.

Donziger refused, arguing that the request violated attorney-client privilege and potentially endangered the Ecuadorian plaintiffs. Judge Kaplan subsequently charged him with criminal contempt.

Glavin was appointed by Kaplan after federal prosecutors in New York declined to pursue the contempt charges.

Donziger, a husband and father who has lived in New York for decades, was determined by Preska in 2019 to be a flight risk. She placed him under house arrest and ordered him to post an $800,000 bond in a matter of days, and to surrender his passport.

Donziger has long argued that the special prosecutor and the courts are biased against him. At the time of her appointment, Glavin was a partner with Seward & Kissel, which has represented Chevron.

In the ruling, Preska denied that allegation, writing that Donziger was convicted “for one reason and one reason only: Mr. Donziger did that with which he is charged.”

“The Court does not question the sincerity of Mr. Donziger’s espousal of his clients’ cause. 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,” Preska added.

Donziger, who has vowed to appeal, called the verdict a “miscarriage of justice.”

“As predicted, Judge Preska of the Chevron-funded Federalist Society today found me guilty of contempt after denying me a jury and locking me up for two years. She read the newspaper during trial,” Donziger said in a statement.

A sentencing date has not yet been set. Donziger, who has already spent nearly two years on house arrest, could be sentenced to up to six months behind bars, or fined up to $5,000.

** If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Drilled Season 5: La Lucha En La Jungla for more on oil pollution in the Amazon, how Chevron inherited the mess from Texaco, the $18 billion verdict awarded to the plaintiffs by the Ecuadorian judiciary, Chevron’s pursuit of racketeering charges against the plaintiffs and their attorneys and what led up to the criminal contempt charges against Donziger.

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Karen Savage is an investigative journalist who has reported on climate change-related itigation, environmental justice, policing, and other social justice issues. Her work has appeared in Climate Docket, Undark Magazine, In These Times, Project Earth, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Truthout, City Limits, and more. Karen is an alum of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she won the Sidney Hillman Award for Social Justice Reporting.