Several lawmakers, including the progressive representatives known as The Squad, have signed a letter urging Attorney General Merrick Garland to intervene in the case of attorney Steven Donziger, who was sentenced to six months in prison for criminal contempt. The charge stems from Donziger refusing to turn over devices with client communications in 2014 after Chevron filed a complaint alleging that the lawyer had engaged in conspiracy and criminal conduct over the course of the 25-year legal battle against the oil giant in Ecuador.
A judge found that Donziger and his team bribed an Ecuadorian judge and ghostwrote a crucial environmental report used in the case. Both claims have been called into question, with Judge Alberto Guerra admitting to fabricating bribery allegations as well as allegations that his judgment was written for him by Donziger and his colleagues. It’s a complicated case, in some ways, but one thing is clear: Chevron has put all its might into taking down Donziger because he was able to successfully hold the polluter accountable on behalf of Indigenous and marginalized communities in the Lago Agrio region of Ecuador.
“It’s vital to remember that Chevron does not dispute that its predecessor company Texaco deliberately discharged at least 16 billion gallons of toxic oil drilling waters over the course of decades as a cost-saving measure,” lawmakers wrote in the letter, which was signed by Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Chuy Garcia. “This grave injustice at the hands of a U.S. corporation was premeditated and remains an untreated toxic waste site the size of the island of Manhattan.” Additional signees include Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Presley, Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Barbara Lee, and Raul Grijalva.
Donziger was initially placed under house arrest in Aug. 2019, and then disbarred in 2020. He was imprisoned on Oct. 27th of this year after a judge sided with Chevron. Donziger’s treatment before and after his conviction has been the subject of a United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention report that slammed Donziger’s lengthy house arrest, which lasted for more than 800 days, and called his treatment a violation of international law. Yesterday, a federal appeals court heard arguments over whether to dismiss the criminal charges Donziger was convicted of on constitutional grounds.
The human rights and environmental justice lawyer first took on the case against Chevron in 1993—two years after starting an organization representing Cuban refugees—after being tapped by Ecuador’s Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia group representing 30,000 Lago Agrio residents impacted by Chevron’s pollution. Chevron’s actions in the face of the lawsuit show just how evil a corporation confirmed to have shirked regulations to boost profits can be. For allowing dangerous levels of carcinogenic metals like cadmium, copper, and mercury into waterways, and in exchange for contributing to the illnesses and death of numerous people, Chevron earned an extra $5 billion over the course of two decades.
Chevron was willing to square off against victims for a “lifetime,” the company stated in 2007 amid ongoing litigation. It paid more than $1 million to Guerra and coached him on his testimony for nearly two months—all in hopes of taking Donziger down. And Chevron retained a law firm whose partners had been censured in at least three U.S. states, as well as the U.K. If anything, Chevron’s behavior should be punished—not the lawyer fighting for the planet and some of its most underserved citizens. Garland has yet to issue a response to lawmakers’ request to “act immediately to rectify the unprecedented and unjust imprisonment” of Donziger.
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