Six-Month Sentence for Lawyer Who Took on Chevron Provokes Anger

Conviction of Steven Donziger, said one critic, “perfectly encapsulates how corporate power has twisted the U.S. justice system to protect corporate interests and punish their enemies.”

Steven Donziger. (Still from video by Amazon Watch and Frente de Defensa de la Amazonía)

By Julia Conley
Common Dreams

A federal judge’s decision Friday to sentence human rights lawyer Steven Donziger to six months in prison—following more than two years of house arrest related to a lawsuit he filed decades ago against oil giant Chevron–has been condemned by supporters. 

The sentence, delivered by U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska in New York City, represents “an international outrage,” tweeted journalist Emma Vigeland following its announcement.

Donziger’s sentence came a day after the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said it was “appalled” by the U.S. legal system’s treatment of the former environmental lawyer and demanded the U.S. government “remedy the situation of Mr. Steven Donziger without delay and bring it in conformity with the relevant international norms” by immediately releasing him. 

Donziger represented a group of farmers and Indigenous people in the Lago Agrio region of Ecuador in the 1990s in a lawsuit against Texaco—since acquired by Chevron—in which the company was accused of contaminating soil and water with its “deliberate dumping of billions of gallons of cancer-causing waste into the Amazon.”


An Ecuadorian court awarded the plaintiffs a $9.5 billion judgment in 2011—a decision upheld by multiple courts in Ecuador—only to have a U.S. judge reject the ruling, accusing Donziger of bribery and evidence tampering. Chevron also countersued Donziger in 2011. 

“Chevron caused a mass industrial poisoning in the Amazon that crushed the lives of Indigenous peoples. Six courts and 28 appellate judges found the company guilty. Fight on.”
—Steven Donziger

In 2019, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Southern District of New York — a former corporate lawyer with investments in Chevron — held Donziger in contempt of court after he refused to disclose privileged information about his clients to the fossil fuel industry. Kaplan placed Donziger under house arrest in Manhattan, where he has remained under strict court monitoring for 787 days.

In addition to Kaplan’s own connections to Chevron, the judge appointed private attorneys to prosecute the case, including one who had worked for a firm that represented the oil giant.

Preska, who found Donziger guilty of the contempt charges in July, is a leader of the right-wing Federalist Society, which counts Chevron among its financial backers.

“As I face sentencing on Day 787 of house arrest, never forget what this case is really about,” tweeted Donziger on Friday morning, as he awaited the sentencing. “Chevron caused a mass industrial poisoning in the Amazon that crushed the lives of Indigenous peoples. Six courts and 28 appellate judges found the company guilty.”

Donziger indicated Friday afternoon that he plans to appeal the sentence.

“Stay strong,” he tweeted along with a photo from a rally attended by his supporters Friday. co-founder and author Bill McKibben said on social media that Donziger “deserves our thanks and support” for “daring to point out that Big Oil had poisoned the rainforest.”

Rick Claypool, research director for Public Citizen, tweeted that Donziger’s case “perfectly encapsulates how corporate power has twisted the U.S. justice system to protect corporate interests and punish their enemies”—noting that as Donziger is ordered to prison for six months, members of the Sackler family recently won immunity from opioid lawsuits targeting their private company, Purdue Pharma.“This ruling was done to deter ANYONE from crossing corporate special interests,” said progressive former congressional candidate Jen Perelman. This article is from Common Dreams.

17 comments for “Six-Month Sentence for Lawyer Who Took on Chevron Provokes Anger

  1. October 4, 2021 at 12:39

    ok, everybody: stop using chevron stations and products

  2. Meriel
    October 4, 2021 at 04:35

    Appalling misuse of the American justice system. America should get its house in order and prosecute the corporate law breakers not the lawers who are prosecuting these corporate law breakers!

  3. PB
    October 3, 2021 at 17:53


    Sometimes you only need to see a name to understand the story.

  4. James Apone
    October 3, 2021 at 04:25

    they can cheat us but they can not cheat God.

  5. Sharon Webb
    October 2, 2021 at 21:04

    the rot is everywhere, on the Donzinger side we have the money grubbing Kerry Kennedy, pathetic

    meanwhile, the Amazon burns…


  6. John
    October 2, 2021 at 16:12

    This is just further evidence that the U.S.A. in and if itself IS NOT now, nor ever has been a country, nation, or kingdom. It IS a large umbrella Corporation that was incorporated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1776 on behalf of Usury based banking interests, and corporate interests, all of whom were slave owners. The U.S.A. HAS NEVER BEEN a “good” nation!!! Just ask the Native Americans, the poor Black Africans brought over here as slaves of the cotton and tobacco plantations, my Irish people treated like poor White slaves, the poor Chinese who were brought over here as slaves of the railroads and mining companies, etc., etc., etc.!!! The U.S.A. WAS ALWAYS FOUNDED to be a Gigantic Corporate Empire that would eventually span the Whole Globe as it does now!!!!!!!!!!

    • David G Horsman
      October 4, 2021 at 15:26

      Well said John. Anybody that “longs for the good old days” is delusional. They never existed.
      That should bring us optimism if our current reality were not a constant string of atrocities and violations of international law.

  7. October 2, 2021 at 15:25

    Remember money is free speech. The truth is what your told it is. You think otherwise – a dangerous critical thinker – you are a threat to be controlled – for the greater good of course.
    Ask Assange or Snowden about speaking truth to power. That said, stand tall, do what is right as much as you can- don’t expect external reward here or now.

  8. Edward
    October 2, 2021 at 15:15

    This is a new low for the U.S., the latest erosion of our rights; the threat to the public is not Donziger but the “judge”, the prosecutor, and the Chevron corporation.

  9. Anonymot
    October 2, 2021 at 15:13

    Chevron is the foulest of the foul. When we went into Iraq there were two reasons. The first and worst was that the CIA lackey, Saddam, had developed an unacceptable sense of dictatorial independence and granted all of the available lots of oil exploration in Iraq and sold them off to Russia, France, China, and the UK, if my memory serves me correctly.

    The minute we had stretched his neck, all oil exploration contracts were declared nul and void by the CIA’s new lackey and immediately after that Chevron was declared the new owner of all of Iraq’s oil exploration rights. An already prepared contract was produced and signed. Chevron quickly proceeded to sell the various parcels to the owners of the freshly annulled contracts. There may have been one change, but Chevron picked up a quick 3 Billion dollars in the deal. Yes, THREE BILLION DOLLARS! They may have been obliged to give part of that to the CIA for private use and distribution, but it’s all findable in public records.

  10. alexandra Moffat
    October 2, 2021 at 13:20

    My horror at this sentence is enormous. It is the ultimate in injustice and the trial never should have occurred if the judge truly had chevron connections, for the first of many reasons to grant an appeal . Mr Donziger is a national – international – hero. Big Oil owns Washington?????

    • Anonymot
      October 2, 2021 at 15:16

      Why the question marks?

    • October 2, 2021 at 15:36

      Does big oil own Washington?
      Since they ushered in a West Texas man named L.B. Johnson to be President. Another Texas oil man stole the election later in 2000 I believe.. the idiot son G.W. Bush jr. Today we steal the oil of Syria openly.

  11. Cornelis van Dijk
    October 2, 2021 at 12:52

    Corruption is rampant in the USA.

  12. Stephen Blobaum
    October 2, 2021 at 10:37

    Emma Vigeland IS NOT a journalist. Emma Vigeland is a “poor little rich girl” playing pundit who’s parents are both corporate lawyers.

  13. October 2, 2021 at 07:31

    Is there any doubt now that our entire legal and criminal justice system are completely broken and dysfunctional ?

    Why isn’t the DOJ and Attorney General Merrick Garland, or even President Biden, interceding on this case ?

    (Whoops! I just answered my own questions).

  14. Aaron
    October 2, 2021 at 05:58

    Seems like Chevron and the Sacklers have friends in high places.

Comments are closed.