After his case against Chevron was overturned in the U.S., Steven Donziger has faced punishment for criminal contempt of court.
Disbarred attorney and indigenous rights campaigner Steven Donziger was given the maximum sentence of six months in prison on Friday, Sept. 24. Only the day before, Donziger had asked the court to take into consideration what experts at the United Nations had to say, who held the opinion that it was a violation of international human rights law for Donziger to be held under a court-mandated home confinement for over two years.
Donziger was found guilty in May of defying court orders. In particular, he was charged on the grounds that he did not turn over electronic devices, including his computer. This is related to being charged in 2019 of criminal contempt and placed under house arrest because he was believed to be a flight risk. He has been found by the court to be willfully and repeatedly defying their orders, and the charges have continued to rack up from 2019 all the way to the end of September this year.
All of this is in relation to a lawsuit against Chevron, a well-known name in the oil industry. Donziger has in the past fought in court against the company over pollution claims in the rainforests of Ecuador. Donziger won in 2011, but the U.S. enforcement of the ruling was barred in 2014 amidst claims by Chevron of “shocking levels of misconduct” and fraud on the part of the Ecuadorian judiciary as well as Donziger himself. The acting judge found the ruling in 2011 to have been obtained through fraudulent means on the part of Donziger, and to this day Chevron has not paid the $9.5 billion from the original lawsuit, because the matter shifted to a criminal case when Donziger did not turn over his electronic devices under court orders.
Donziger claims that “This is all part of a plan concocted by Chevron to dismantle my life. They want to do this to avoid paying up and to turn me into a weapon of intimidation against the whole legal profession.” He has also claimed that both the judge and the prosecuting lawyer have connections to Chevron. He refers to Judge Loretta Preska’s service on the Federalist Society’s advisory board, to which Chevron is a donor, as well as to the prosecuting lawyer’s previous work for Chevron. Donziger pleaded to Judge Preska to toss the older July ruling that found him guilty on six separate accounts of criminal contempt throughout this whole process, on the basis that the prosecuting attorneys were serving illegally. He claimed this on the grounds that the U.S. Department of Justice declined to supervise these attorneys.
Preska was not required to consider the opinion stated by the UN that the United States violated international law by placing Donziger under house arrest for so long, and she shocked many when she opted for the harshest legal punishment for Donziger. The current UN stance is still that the United States should move for the immediate release of Donziger, according to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Nothing is said currently on whether his devices will now be investigated for fraudulent activities related to the Chevron ruling in 2011 now that he has been convicted.