Trials & Litigation

In closing brief, disbarred environmental lawyer claims his prosecution is 'run by an oil company'

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Chevron Refinery in Richmond, California. Photo by Todd A. Merport/Shutterstock.

A closing brief filed on behalf of disbarred environmental lawyer Steven Donziger contends that the criminal contempt case against him “has all the trappings of a deeply troubled and conflicted prosecution run by an oil company.”

Donziger’s proposed findings were filed June 9 following a five-day bench trial last month. They seek dismissal of six charges based on alleged bias by special prosecutors and U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska of the Southern District of New York, who is presiding, Law360 reports.

Donziger is accused of stonewalling Chevron’s efforts to collect a judgment against him in a civil RICO case after a judge determined that he obtained a fraudulent $8.6 billion judgment in Ecuador against the oil company. He is also accused of violating discovery orders, including that he must allow imaging of his electronic devices.

The federal judge who ruled against Donziger in Chevron’s RICO case, Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York, had blocked enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment and awarded Chevron $800,000 on the RICO claim. He appointed Rita Glavin to be a special prosecutor in the criminal contempt case after the U.S. attorney’s office declined the prosecution, according to Law360’s coverage of the closing briefs.

Glavin was formerly a lawyer with Seward & Kissel, which is also aiding the prosecution. The law firm has an oil and gas practice and has “extensive links to several Chevron-related entities,” Donziger’s brief says.

“This appears to be the nation’s first corporate prosecution given that the oil company (Chevron) against whom Mr. Donziger won a large pollution judgment in Ecuador is a client of the very law firm (Seward & Kissel) now prosecuting him,” the brief says.

Donziger also claimed that lawyers from Chevron’s law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher had assisted Seward & Kissel, including lawyers who weren’t served with a trial subpoena.

Donziger has been held under pretrial house arrest for more than 670 days.

“The only reasonable conclusion is that this detention asked for by the Chevron-linked private prosecutor is in and of itself punishment,” the brief says.

In the prosecution’s proposed findings of fact, Glavin and her co-counsel argue that the six counts against Donziger were proven beyond a reasonable doubt because Donziger had willfully and knowingly disobeyed court orders. Glavin said Donziger had:

• Missed a deadline to provide a list of his electronic devices and accounts.

• Failed to surrender his electronic devices for imaging.

• Refused to surrender his passport.

• Refused to completely and timely transfer to Chevron his contingent fee interests in the Chevron judgment.

• Contravened a court order when he tried to monetize his interest in the Chevron judgment by pledging a portion of his contingency interest to an executive coach as compensation for personal services.

Preska had rejected Donziger’s motion to disqualify herself and every other judge on the federal bench in Manhattan, New York, in a May 2020 order. Preska also denied a motion to disqualify the appointed special prosecutors.

“Seward’s prior work for Chevron—completing corporate forms and opinion letters for Chevron’s foreign affiliates—has absolutely nothing to do with this case,” Preska wrote.

Preska also refused to dismiss the criminal contempt charges against Donziger in advance of the trial, Reuters reported last month.

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