June 30, 2020
Contact: Lauren Regan (541) 687-9180 or

Eugene, OR – Attorneys for human rights attorney Steven Donziger have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals to weigh in on the interlocking conflicts of interests at the heart of a trumped-up case tracing back to Donziger’s major $9.5 billion victory on behalf of Ecuadorian plaintiffs against the oil giant Chevron. The Civil Liberties Defense Center is a member of the legal team that has petitioned the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to dismiss the case at question, which is currently before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

“What happens when a fossil fuel company, a federal judge, and a private prosecutor get together to railroad a public interest attorney for successfully pursuing justice for indigenous communities poisoned by that company’s activities?” asked CLDC Executive Director Lauren Regan. “Justice is denied not only for the attorney under attack and his clients but also for everyone seeking to hold abusive corporations accountable for their ecological crimes.”

Chevron’s attorneys have been feverishly working to discredit Donziger since he won a $9.5 billion-dollar judgement in 2011 against the company for its environmental crimes in the Ecuadorian Amazon. While Chevron’s judicial tampering in Ecuadorian courts that followed is itself alarming, the subsequent retaliatory actions in U.S. courts are perhaps even more disturbing, as they speak to the ability of corporations to control the legal system. Not content with the twisted legal interpretation of federal racketeering laws that allowed the company to pursue Donziger to begin with (a technique sometimes known as SLAPP, for ‘strategic lawsuit again public participation’), Chevron has continued to pervert the legal system to extract revenge.

In 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York declined U.S. District Court Judge Kaplan’s demand to prosecute Donziger for criminal contempt while he appealed Kaplan’s civil contempt order to turn over his attorney-client privileged communications, documents and devices. Donziger told the court that he was ethically bound to protect his clients in Ecuador who faced threats and violence from the fossil fuel industry and its henchmen for assisting in holding Chevron accountable for devastating pollution and destruction to the Amazon. Instead of deferring to the U.S. Attorney’s office within the Department of Justice, and allowing the appellate process to review his ruling, Judge Kaplan took it upon himself to appoint a private law firm as prosecutor despite that firm’s close connections to the very company that was seeking the prosecution. Then, without following standard protocol for random selection of a new federal judge to adjudicate the criminal contempt charge, Judge Kaplan handpicked Judge Loretta Preska to preside over the case.

When pressed about Seward & Kissel’s longstanding attorney-client relationship with Chevron, and Chevron affiliates in the fossil fuel shipping industry, Seward partner Rita Marie Glavin actively worked to conceal the firm’s conflict of interest and berated the legal defense for daring to question its disinterest in the case. However, even after being presented with clear evidence and ultimately even Glavin’s own admission of a financial relationship between her firm and Chevron, Judge Preska refused to remedy this egregious conflict and bias—the absence of which is necessary to ensure a defendant is tried with fairness and impartiality in accordance with U.S. and international law.

Meanwhile, Donziger has been under pre-trial house arrest for this alleged misdemeanor for eleven months, despite the fact that even a conviction would carry a maximum six-month sentence. The trial date has been postponed yet again, purportedly due to Covid-19.

To address the failure of the federal district court to pursue a prompt and disinterested path to justice, attorneys for Donziger have filed a writ of mandamus asking the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to step in and dismiss the case with prejudice. A writ of mandamus is an order from a court to a subordinate government official or entity ordering them to properly fulfill their official duties or correct an abuse of discretion.

“This is a chilling example of corporations using the federal court system to silence effective voices for justice, and it cannot be allowed to continue under such clearly ethically-compromised conditions,” Regan stated. “When judges and private prosecutors unapologetically pursue a corporation’s false and politically-motivated criminal charges against those acting in the public interest, it is the responsibility of a higher court to restore impartiality to the legal system. In this case, that means dismissing these retaliatory and frankly ridiculous charges. Chevron and the fossil fuel industry hope to scare lawyers and litigants from seeking and winning comparable verdicts that seek to hold polluters accountable for the suffering and destruction they profit from. Mr. Donziger has steadfastly fought this evil bully for over a decade and will not give up. The Civil Liberties Defense Center stands in unequivocal solidarity with Mr. Donziger and will continue to defend him pro bono until he is free.”

The Civil Liberties Defense Center supports movements that seek to dismantle the political and economic structures at the root of social inequality and environmental destruction.