More Nice Time! Environmental Lawyer Railroaded By Big Oil Allowed Out Of Prison!

In a day full of Nice Time stories, we have another for you, although like so many nice times these days, it's got a little bit of toxic sludge in the corners. Or maybe Dok just needs more fiber in his diet. In any case, environmental and human rights attorney Steven Donziger is out of federal prison as part of a pandemic early release program, and will serve the rest of his six-month sentence for misdemeanor contempt of court under home arrest.

Donziger's legal crusade against oil giant Chevron on behalf of indigenous people in Ecuador made him a target for one of the weirdest legal vendettas we've ever read about. Better throw an "allegedly" in there, too.

But wait, you may wonder, who is this Donziger guy anyway? What did he do that was contemptuous? I like to show contempt for Big Oil, will I go to prison too? These are all good questions even if they do not bring any Talking Heads lyrics to mind!

First off, let us refer you to Wonkette's own story, by Wonkette's own Jamie Lynn Crofts, so you too can feel your jaw drop at what sure looks like some very fishy legal maneuvering in the case, and then we'll try our best to summarize Jamie's summary.

It is a long, complicated history, starting with your basic legacy of a US oil company doing dirt to indigenous people on another continent that God put a bunch of oil beneath so a few Americans could get very rich and a lot more Americans could contribute to the climate crisis that's now threatening the future of human civilization. From 1964 to 1992, the US oil company Texaco dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste around an oil field in Ecuador's Amazon region, poisoning land and water and killing animals and people, as God intended. Chevron took on those liabilities when it bought out Texaco in 2000.

Donziger sued Chevron on behalf of 30,000 indigenous people in the area, and won $19 billion in damages for his clients in a 2011 judgment by an Ecuadorian court; on appeal, that amount was cut to $9.5 billion. But as will happen when you think justice has been done, Chevron got rid of all its assets in Ecuador so nothing could be seized by that country's justice system.

Then Chevron decided to go after Donziger; as Jamie notes,

One Chevron employee was even brazen enough to write in an email that the company's long-term "strategy is to demonize Donziger."

Chevron accused Donziger in US federal court of doing a RICO fraud, including claims that he had faked a report that was central to the Ecuadorian case, and of bribery, too. So that the case wouldn't be tried by a jury, Chevron dropped its initial claim for $57 billion in damages, yes with a "B" we checked. The case was instead tried by Judge Lewis Kaplan in the Southern District of New York. Kaplan found in favor of Chevron, and ordered Donziger to pay Chevron some "$10 million in fines, fees, costs, and attorneys fees," including $800,000 in damages even though Chevron dropped its damages requests. For good measure, Kaplan wrote in his 500-page opinion that Donziger had done some crimes, even though this was a civil case and Donziger hadn't been charged with criminal offenses in either the USA or in Ecuador.

Based on that judgment, Donziger ended up getting disbarred, too.

Also too, it gets even crazier. Since Donziger is not a rich oil company but an attorney who represented indigenous people, he couldn't pay any of those millions of dollars, so Chevron sued to get access to all of his electronic devices in an effort to find assets that could be seized, and Judge Kaplan granted the order. Donziger said hell to the no to that, because his computer included protected information about his clients. Back to Jamie's summary:

Donziger, who was worried about his legal and ethical obligations to his clients, objected and appealed the order. While the order was still on appeal, Judge Kaplan ordered Donziger to show cause why he shouldn't be held in criminal contempt.

And just wait, it still gets worse!

Kaplan referred his criminal contempt charge against Donziger to the US Attorney's office. The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York declined to prosecute the case. AND JUDGE KAPLAN JUST CHARGED DONZIGER ANYWAY!

Kaplan took the extremely rare step of hiring a private firm to prosecute Donziger in federal court, and assigned the case to another federal judge, Bush appointee Loretta Preska. But SURPRISE! once the case was underway, it turned out the private law firm had represented Chevron in the past, and Judge Preska is active with the Federalist Society, which gets money from — well, just guess which US oil giant named Chevron that donor is.

Do you like how we are actually giving you the short version of all this?

Also, since Kaplan ruled Donziger a flight risk, Donziger spent more than 800 days in home confinement before his contempt trial.

Ultimately, the Trumped-up judge found Donziger guilty and sent him to the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, which as we say, released him this week to reduce his exposure to COVID, hooray!

The whole prosecution reeked so badly of bad faith, conflict of interest, corruption, and toxic crude oil byproducts that, as Jamie wrote seven months ago,

Six prominent members of Congress — Jamie Raskin, Cori Bush, Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman, AOC, and Jim McGovern — have asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to review the case [...] Retired federal judges, 68 Nobel laureates, 475 lawyers and legal organizations, 200 law students from 55 law schools, and human rights organizations like Amnesty International have all spoken up in Donziger's defense.

This is one of those situations where the injustice is so clear that it makes it hard to have any faith at all in the American legal system. Like Donziger told Esquire, "This is the first time in history that big oil has convinced the government to give it the power to prosecute its main critic."

Thank Crom Donziger is at least out of prison; he continues to appeal his conviction.

Isn't America an amazing place?

[Reuters / Wonkette]

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More Nice Time! Environmental Lawyer Railroaded By Big Oil Allowed Out Of Prison!