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9 Democrats urge DOJ to free lawyer who won lawsuit against Chevron

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and seven other House Democrats are urging the Justice Department to release American environmental lawyer Steven Donziger, who helped Indigenous communities in Ecuador win a $9.5 billion lawsuit against Chevron.

Oct 27, 2021: Lawyer Who Sued Chevron over “Amazon Chernobyl” Ordered to Prison After 800+ Days of House Arrest

Why it matters: Human rights groups say the charges against Donziger, who is serving a six-month prison term for contempt of court, violate international law and appear to be an act of retaliation against his work on behalf of Indigenous people and environmental advocates.

Oct 8, 2020: Deep in the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador lies the “Amazon Chernobyl”, a 1,700-square-mile environmental disaster brought on by oil extraction and production. After a visit to Ecuador in 1993, human rights lawyer Steven Donziger and other attorneys brought a class-action lawsuit against Texaco (later Chevron) on behalf of over 30,000 farmers and Indigenous people from this Amazon region who were affected by this disaster. Through his personal testimony and supporting footage, Steven recounts his experience advocating on behalf of the environment and affected communities and the personal toll this work has had on his life.

Catch up quick: Donziger spent decades suing Chevron for allegedly damaging the environment, especially the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador, and harming Indigenous tribespeople, according to the New York Times.

  • Chevron denied responsibility, but an Ecuadorean court awarded Donziger’s clients $18 billion. This was later reduced to $9.5 billion in damages in 2001.
  • The energy corporation refused to pay the fines and filed a suit against Donziger, claiming he used illegal tactics like bribery to win the case.
  • U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan did not dispute the pollution in the Amazon, but ruled that Donziger’s team used fraudulent evidence and engaged in criminal conduct.
May 16, 2021: On Sunday, Donziger reached his 600th day of an unprecedented house arrest that has resulted from a sprawling, Kafkaesque legal battle with the oil giant Chevron. Donziger spearheaded a lengthy crusade against the company on behalf of tens of thousands of Indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest whose homes and health were devastated by oil pollution, only to himself become, as he describes it, the victim of a “planned targeting by a corporation to destroy my life”.

When Chevron brought another case against Donziger in 2018, Kaplan agreed with its demand for Donziger to turn over his computer and other electronics. Donziger refused, citing confidential attorney-client communications.

  • In 2019, the judge brought in a private law firm to prosecute Donziger for criminal contempt of court.
  • After a trial presided under another district court judge, he was found guilty and disbarred, the Guardian reports.
Oct 2, 2021: US lawyer who sued Chevron sentenced to 6 months in contempt case

What they’re saying: In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Galand, the Congress members cited an opinion by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), which found that his trial and the judges involved failed international fair trial standards.

  • “The Biden administration must send a clear signal that it stands with communities harmed by pollution and environmental destruction and the lawyers courageous enough to represent them and not the corporations that benefit from polluting the water, air, and land of local people,” the lawmakers wrote.
  • “Extractive industries everywhere are watching this story to see if Chevron has just completed their proof of concept,” they added.

“The DOJ must intervene in this case to show polluting companies that the Chevron model for avoiding responsibility for environmental catastrophe will not be tolerated by our justice system.”

— Excerpt from letter

Jul 9, 2021: Texaco derramó millones de litros de petróleo en la Amazonía ecuatoriana. El abogado Steven Donziger luchó junto con los pueblos indígenas para buscar justicia. Hoy lleva más de 600 días en arresto domiciliario.

The other side: The DOJ submitted a friend-of-the-court filing earlier this month arguing that Donziger’s appeal against his contempt conviction should be rejected.

  • Lawyers for the DOJ said his “argument that his prosecution by private attorneys violated the U.S. Constitution’s appointments clause” was wrong, Reuters notes.
  • Representatives for the DOJ and Chevron did not immediately respond to Axios’ request for comment.
Nov 5, 2021: This week on Brian Ross Investigates: American lawyer Steven Donziger @stevendonziger has been sent to jail in his continuing fight against the giant CHEVRON oil company over their activities in the Amazon. Donziger was convicted of contempt of court after refusing to turn over his computer and files sought by the oil company. His imprisonment, ordered by a US Judge, has sparked outrage around the world, and we’ll talk with his lawyer about what happens next.


Published by amongthefray

News with a historical perspective. Fighting against misinformation, hate, and revisionist history.

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