The last time we checked in on Steve Donziger, the former lawyer behind the failed Chevron Shakedown, things weren’t going too well for him. After he failed to obey a judge’s order to not continue profiting from his fraudulent attempt to pick Chevron’s pockets for billions of dollars, he was eventually sentenced to house arrest on criminal contempt charges. He has also failed to make a court-ordered payment to Chevron, resulting in some hefty fines piling up against him. That situation has been ongoing for the past eight months.
But now, in a recent public relations push, Donziger has found a new set of friends to speak up on his behalf. A group of thirty Nobel Prize winners has penned an open letter calling for his release from home detention, praising him as a hero for his groundbreaking advocacy or something. (Courthouse News)
On Thursday morning, it brought together 30 Nobel laureates from around the world in an open letter that lauds Steven Donziger as a hero, and casualty, of sprawling litigation with the oil giant Chevron.
“Environmental activism in many countries results in murder,” the petition from the prize winners states. “Chevron’s strategy is death by a thousand cuts through the manipulation of a legal system it has managed to stack in its favor. Its goal is to intimidate and disempower the victims of its pollution and a lawyer who has worked for decades on their behalf.”
From his Upper East Side apartment this morning, Donziger announced his newfound support over Zoom, which has become the go-to videoconferencing software of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I believe my historically unprecedented pretrial detention for a lawyer, now on its 255th day, is intimately connected to my effective and successful advocacy for these communities,” he said.
How Donziger managed to round up this crew of Nobel Prize winners to plead his case is something of a mystery. One court after another has found that what he attempted in Ecuador was a complete and total fraud, with a corrupt judge inventing “evidence” out of whole cloth to make the case against Chevron. Everyone involved had their hands out, waiting for their cut of the nearly ten billion dollar settlement that they expected Chevron to fork over. Donziger was even selling shares of the expected loot to cover all of the legal costs he ran up in an effort to pull this off. Those people and offices have all since relinquished their share of the prize… to Chevron.
Donziger’s claim this month is that he’s experiencing “retaliation” for his self-proclaimed “effective and successful advocacy for these communities.” That’s sort of hilarious since the only people he was advocating for were his shareholders and himself. And none of these questions address the fact that it was Ecuador’s state-run oil company who continued to pollute the land in question long after Texaco (which was later purchased by Chevron) had pulled out and been given a clean, legal bill of health for having cleaned up the sites where they had been drilling.
Just to be fair to both sides here, there is one element of this ongoing legal saga that is at least unusual, if still legal. Back when Judge Lewis Kaplan was accusing Donziger of failing to comply with the court’s orders, he turned the issue over to federal prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan. For some reason, they declined to prosecute him on the criminal contempt charges, so Kaplan took matters into his own hands and drafted the charges himself. But that only dealt with the criminal contempt charges, not the larger questions of the fraudulent lawsuit.
Donziger has been disbarred everywhere he was once licensed to practice law. His fraudulent scheme has been exposed for the world to see. But somehow there’s an international collection of Nobel Prize winners taking up his cause. Reading some of their statements, the reason begins to come clear. These are environmentalist advocates who hate Chevron for being in the oil and gas business. They mention Chevron far more often than they do Donziger. And they just don’t want to see a fossil fuel giant like Chevron come away with a win.