US Lawyer Sentenced for Contempt in Ecuador Chevron Case
Steve Donziger’s sentence is the latest step in a long legal saga that goes back to his representation of Ecuadorean villagers trying to hold Chevron liable for water and soil contamination in their lands by Texaco between 1964 and 1992.
Steven Donziger, a disbarred American lawyer who has been battling Chevron Corporation over pollution in the Ecuadorian rainforest for over two decades, has been sentenced to six months in prison on contempt charges.
Donziger was sentenced Friday by U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska, who found him guilty in May for “willfully” defying court orders, including the refusal to turn over his computer and other electronic devices.
His sentencing is the latest step in a long legal saga that goes back to his representation of Ecuadorean villagers trying to hold Chevron liable for water and soil contamination by Texaco between 1964 and 1992. Chevron acquired Texaco in 2000.
Back in 2011, Donziger won a $9.5bn judgement against Chevron in an Ecuadorean court. But a U.S. court rejected the multibillion-dollar judgement in 2014, ruling that it had been fraudulently obtained through bribes and corruption.
According to Al Jazeera correspondent Kristen Saloomey, who was present outside the New York City court, Donzinger and his team tried to place the case “in the greater context of his efforts to bring justice for people in Ecuador.” But the judge agreed with the prosecutors, who had argued Donziger consciously disobeyed court orders to turn over his devices and documents.
“The reason I’m locked up is because we were successful,” Donziger told Al Jazeera in an interview before his sentencing.
“I, with other lawyers, helped Indigenous peoples in Ecuador win a historic $9.5bn pollution judgement against Chevron for the deliberate dumping of billions of gallons of cancer-causing waste into the Amazon,” Donziger said.
“That’s an historical fact. That case has been affirmed on appeal by 28 appellate judges, including the highest courts of Ecuador and Canada, for enforcement purposes. So why am I the one being locked up? I helped hold them accountable.”
Donziger, who has been held in home confinement for two years, plans to appeal Friday’s decision, Reuters reported.
A panel of human rights experts commissioned by the United Nations said on September 30 that Donziger’s home detention violated international civil rights law and recommended that he be released.