Donziger Free After ‘Completely Unjust’ Detention

After expressing relief and thanking his supporters, the human rights attorney emphasized that Chevron still intends to pursue a civil case against him.

Environmental lawyer Steven Donziger shows his release papers on April 25 in New York City. (Steven Donziger/Twitter)

Jake Johnson
Common Dreams

Human rights lawyer Steven Donziger walked free Monday after 993 days of detention stemming from his decades-long legal fight with Chevron, which deployed its vast resources in a campaign to destroy Donziger after he won a $9.5 billion settlement against the fossil fuel giant over its pollution of the Amazon rainforest.

“It’s over. Just left with release papers in hand,” Donziger wrote on Twitter. “Completely unjust that I spent even one day in this Kafkaesque situation. Not looking back. Onward.”

Donziger’s case has attracted global attention and outrage, with the United Nations high commissioner on human rights calling his prolonged detention a violation of international law. Lawmakers in the United States have also decried Donziger’s prosecution as an “unprecedented and unjust legal assault.”

“We are relieved that Steven Donziger will finally recover his freedom after almost 1,000 days of arbitrary detention, which included 45 days in prison and over 900 days under house arrest,” Daniel Joloy, senior policy advisor at Amnesty International, said in a statement Monday. “He should have never been detained for even one day, as it has been clear the whole process against him has been in retaliation for his human rights work that exposed corporate wrongdoings.”

“Corporations must not be allowed to continue abusing the U.S. justice system to silence and intimidate human rights defenders or anyone else exposing their wrongdoing,” Joloy added.

The legal battle began in 1993 when Donziger and other attorneys — on behalf of tens of thousands of farmers and Indigenous people who lived near the Ecuadorian Amazon — filed a class-action lawsuit against Texaco alleging that the company contaminated the rainforest with its oil drilling operations.

Chevron, which purchased Texaco in 2001, denied the allegations, but an Ecuadorian court in 2011 ordered the U.S. based oil and gas corporation to pay a $9.5 billion settlement — a ruling that Ecuador’s Supreme Court later upheld.

Claiming the settlement was fraudulently obtained, Chevron withdrew its assets from Ecuador, refused to pay the settlement, and launched a massive legal attack on Donziger, suing him in New York City.

In 2014, a federal judge with ties to Chevron ruled that Donziger was guilty of a “pattern of racketeering activity,” a charge he has denied. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan’s decision was based on testimony from a witness who later admitted to lying.

When Donziger refused to comply with Kaplan’s order to hand his cell phone and computer over to Chevron, arguing that the devices contained sensitive client information, Kaplan charged Donziger in 2019 with six counts of criminal contempt and the attorney was placed under house arrest while awaiting trial.

After the Southern District of New York declined to take up the case against Donziger, Kaplan appointed a Chevron-connected private law firm to pursue the prosecution. Kaplan then chose U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska — previously a member of the Chevron-funded Federalist Society — to preside over the case.

“So my prosecutor has financial links to Chevron, my judge has financial links to Chevron, the charging judge, Judge Kaplan, has investments in Chevron, and they’re denying me jury,” Donziger said in an interview last year.

Last July, Preska found Donziger guilty on all six counts of criminal contempt of court, a decision he slammed as an “obvious travesty of justice.” Donziger was sentenced in October to six months in federal prison, where he remained until December, when he was transferred back to house arrest under a coronavirus-related early release program.

Given that Donziger spent more than two years in detention before even receiving a trial, his sentence has been deemedthe longest “ever recorded for a misdemeanor charge.”

Human rights and environmental organizations have urged U.S. President Joe Biden to pardon Donziger, slamming his prosecution as “retaliation for his work in defense of the rights of Indigenous peoples in Ecuador who were victims of Chevron Corporation’s oil dumping.”

Donziger emphasized in a video posted to Twitter Sunday that Chevron is still pursuing a civil case against him:

Joloy of Amnesty International said Monday that while Donziger is finally free from detention, “the end of this sentence does not mean the end of the injustices Steven has faced.”

“The U.S. government,” said Joloy, “must fully implement the decision of the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, including launching an impartial and independent investigation into the circumstances that led to Steven’s arbitrary detention, to prevent something like this from happening again.”

Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams.
This article is from  Common Dreams.

17 comments for “Donziger Free After ‘Completely Unjust’ Detention

  1. Caliman
    April 27, 2022 at 13:11

    This is what they do to the best of us … the people who really care. They silence you, they marginalize you; and if you’re still being effective, they throw the law at you. It should be a badge of honor to be attacked by this system.

  2. Vera Gottlieb
    April 27, 2022 at 10:14

    The so-called ‘democracy’…not the will of the people but the power of money.

  3. Lois Gagnon
    April 26, 2022 at 22:13

    More evidence corporations rule the US. If it were otherwise, Steven Donziger would never have spent a single night in jail or detention. Too many”lawmakers” were content to look the other way while all this went on to be coincidence.

    • mgr
      April 27, 2022 at 02:59

      Lois: Yes, and now it is in plain sight with no pretense. And what about the “judges.” Is this just business as usual? It seems that oligarchs now officially own the law in America. Biden, despite his oath of office, does not seem interested in protecting and defending the Constitution. Rule of law..? Sadly, this is America’s vision of “democracy.” Small wonder that a rapidly growing part of the world is not clamoring for more US rule…

      • anomynous
        April 27, 2022 at 12:42

        See how capitalism, which is the same thing as democracy and freedom, is better than Communism and its show-trials? Remember all that they told us about the Soviet Union, and East Germany? Remember how in communist countries there is no freedom, and the totalitarian authoritarians can put you in a gulag for any reason? It can’t happen here, unless you have the money and you want it. That’s truth, justice, and the American way.

  4. RMayer
    April 26, 2022 at 21:03

    Only reason i know of RFine story (remarkably similar2 Atty SDonzinger sub in LA County4Chevon… My (now ret) personal atty handled part case…
    If CN investigated find 1 of Few Good Obama/ Holder actions resolved

  5. Maricata
    April 26, 2022 at 20:48

    It was a travesty he was ever in prison or under arbitrary detention.

  6. Anon
    April 26, 2022 at 20:11

    Tnx Mr Johnson, CN.
    Pethaps the Most Egregious Documentation of “Death of America” (if Not4 Sister Rice, Mr Kiriaku, Mr Murray, & a raft of others incl Los Angeles Atty (less publicised) Richard Fine.)
    & of course Mr Assange!

  7. William Todd
    April 26, 2022 at 17:25

    Note that Jennifer Rearden represented Chevron in its legal badgering of Danziger and was not only nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by Trump but was re-nominated in January by Biden and then received a unanimous favorable report from the Senate Judiciary Committee early this month.

    Might be worth a note to your Senators…

    • anomynous
      April 27, 2022 at 13:06

      America is a plutocracy, a kleptocracy. It is not a meritocracy, but a meretricious-ocracy.
      See books by Tom Burgis, and Oliver Bullough, amongst all the other evidence.
      America (and Britain) is smug, complacent, and mediocre; and it’s all the fault of capitalism.

  8. Tim S.
    April 26, 2022 at 17:18

    There will only be reason for congratulation when the crooked judges themselves are in the slammer!

  9. Doug
    April 26, 2022 at 17:01

    So who will now pursue and prosecute the bent beaks

  10. April 26, 2022 at 16:32

    “Claiming the settlement was fraudulently obtained, Chevron withdrew its assets from Ecuador, refused to pay the settlement, and launched a massive legal attack on Donziger, suing him in New York City.”

    It was not a “settlement.” It was a judgment

  11. Rob Roy
    April 26, 2022 at 15:23

    There’s no answer or cure for this miscarriage of justice, especially since our Supreme Court is also in the toilet. Steve Donzerger is a hero.

  12. John R
    April 26, 2022 at 14:42

    The clear message is- don’t fuck with the oil companies under any circumstances and if you do, you will be crushed by our system of injustice- got it ? This case was not even mentioned by the NYT or PBS news. Why am I not surprised.

    • Andrew Nichols
      April 26, 2022 at 18:49

      Imagine the corporate media outrage had this been the Russians doing this? Congress would have a Donziger Act passed in no time.

  13. Me Myself
    April 26, 2022 at 13:55

    I want to say how happy I am to hear Donziger is finally free from detention. It really makes me angry to see how hard it is to do right by people, the obvious corruption of the Judicial system needs to be addressed. How can society be free until it is?

Comments are closed.