Steven R. Donziger (born September 14, 1961) is an American attorney known for his legal battles with Chevron particularly the Lago Agrio oil field case in which he represented over 30,000 farmers and indigenous Ecuadorans in a case against Chevron related to environmental damage and health effects caused by oil drilling. In 2013 Ecuadoran courts awarded the plaintiffs $9.5 billion in damages, which led Chevron to withdraw its assets from Ecuador and launch legal action against Donziger in the US. In 2011, Chevron filed a RICO (anti-corruption) suit against Donziger in New York City. As a result of this case, Donziger was disbarred from practicing law in New York in 2018, put under house arrest in August 2019 while awaiting trial on charges of criminal contempt of court, in July 2021, a US District Judge found him guilty; he was sentenced to 6 months in jail in October 2021.
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- I was not prosecuted by the U.S. government. I was prosecuted by a private law firm, Seward & Kissel, appointed by a federal judge after the U.S. government declined to prosecute me. And the judge never disclosed that the law firm had Chevron as a client. So, essentially, I’m being prosecuted by a Chevron law firm, a partner in a Chevron law firm, a private law firm, who deprived me of my liberty... this is the first corporate prosecution in U.S. history... What’s really happening here is Chevron and these two judges and, really, allies of the fossil fuel industry are trying to use me as a weapon to intimidate activists and lawyers who do this work, who do the frontline work of defending the planet. What’s... at stake is the ability to advocate for human rights in our society.
- So, what’s really happening here is, Chevronand its allies have used the judiciary to try to attack the very idea of corporate accountability and environmental justice work that leads to significant judgments. And I think they’re not only trying to retaliate against me; they’re trying to send a broader message to the activist community, to the legal community, that these types of cases, that truly challenge the fossil fuel industry, that are intimately connected to the survival of our planet, should not be allowed to happen in court, at least not at this level.
- As the case was coming to an end in Ecuador, Chevron's lawyers and executives made it clear they would never pay the judgment. They sold their assets in Ecuador, so the Ecuadorians would have nothing to collect. They threatened the Indigenous peoples with “a lifetime of litigation” if they didn't drop their case.
- This goes way beyond me. It goes to really what kind of society we want in America. How does one man get so targeted by an oil company such that he's being prosecuted by one of their law firms? What does that mean for other advocates? What does that mean for environmental justice advocates and corporate accountability advocates and lawyers? What does that mean for our planet? Because if you can't do this kind of legal work to hold these polluters accountable, the destruction of the earth will happen at a faster pace.
- It has become clear to me in recent months that my unprecedented house arrest is the result of apparent misconduct and conflicts of interest by a number of people in the judiciary. It feels like Chevron has taken over the role of government to deprive its main litigation adversary of his freedom. That’s a terrifying prospect for me and my family, but also for everybody who cares about the nature of freedom and advocacy in our society. I don’t think it has ever happened before. I hope it never happens again.
- Quoted in Chevron Tightens the Screws on Steven Donziger, By James North, The Nation, May 28, 2020
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- We are relieved that Steven Donziger will finally recover his freedom after almost 1,000 days of arbitrary detention, which included 45 days in prison and over 900 days under house arrest. He should have never been detained for even one day, as it has been clear the whole process against him has been in retaliation for his human rights work that exposed corporate wrongdoings
- Ahead of Steven Donziger's sentencing scheduled for Friday, five United Nations human rights experts ruled that the American attorney who won a multibillion-dollar judgment against Chevron in Ecuadorian courts has been "arbitrarily" detained in the U.S. for 787 days... The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, made up of independent experts appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council, said that it was "appalled by uncontested allegations in this case," noting that the U.S. government did not respond to its request for input... the working group called on the U.S. government to "take the steps necessary to remedy the situation of Mr. Steven Donziger without delay and bring it in conformity with the relevant international norms, including those set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
- Steven Donziger has been under house arrest for over 580 days, awaiting trial on a misdemeanor charge. It’s all, he says, because he beat a multinational energy corporation in court.
- The Chevron corporation’s legal onslaught against the environmental lawyer Steven Donziger continues. The oil giant and two federal judges in New York are apparently in a de facto alliance to persecute Donziger, who in 2013 helped win a landmark $9.5 billion legal victory against the company for polluting vast stretches of rain forest in Ecuador... Federal Judge Loretta Preska, who has already kept Donziger under huse arrest in New York City for the past 10 months, on May 18 refused his request to relax his confinement before his trial for contempt, which will not start until September 9. Donziger’s attorney had asked Preska to allow him out of his Upper West Side apartment for three hours a day. Preska said no. She repeated her preposterous claim that Donziger could be a flight risk, saying, “I could be to the airport and on an airplane in three hours.” Donziger lives with his wife and 13-year-old son. He has already surrendered his passport.
- What’s disgraceful is that the maximum jail sentence that Donziger would face if he’s found guilty of contempt is six months—less than half the time he will have already spent locked up... It is this kind of questionable conduct from the federal bench that prompted Frisch to file an emergency motion on May 11 at the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit accusing Preska and Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who has pursued Donziger since 2011, with “abuses of power and discretion.” Donziger’s supporters argue that Chevron’s own lawyers are collaborating in the effort to persecute him.
- bI have never seen anything like this attempt to destroy Steven Donziger. Chevron and its law firms have taken control of the awesome power of government to prosecute an environmental activist and deprive him of his liberty. They have done so with the active complicity of two federal judges. It’s something I’ve never before seen in my career.
- Martin Garbus quoted in Chevron Tightens the Screws on Steven Donziger, By James North, The Nation, May 28, 2020
- Meanwhile, the global support for Donziger is growing. Some 29 Nobel laureates, including nine Peace Prize winners, signed a letter calling for] “a judicial remedy for the legal attacks orchestrated by Chevron against Donziger and for the defamation of his character.”