Trials & Litigation

'It’s time to pay the piper': Ex-lawyer found guilty of criminal contempt in long-running Chevron battle

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

Disbarred human rights lawyer Steven Donziger was found guilty of criminal contempt Monday for refusing to comply with court orders in a long-running battle with the Chevron Corp. over pollution in Ecuador.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska of the Southern District of New York said Donziger had failed to comply with court orders in the Chevron Corp.’s civil RICO case contending that Donziger had obtained an $8.6 billion judgment in Ecuador through fraud.

Law360 and the Wall Street Journal have coverage.

“At stake here is the fundamental principle that a party to a legal action must abide by court orders or risk criminal sanctions, no matter how fervently he believes in the righteousness of his cause or how much he detests his adversary,” Preska wrote. “It’s time to pay the piper.”

The federal judge who ruled against Donziger in the Chevron Corp.’s RICO case, Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York, had blocked enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment and awarded the Chevron Corp. $800,000 on the RICO claim.

Donziger was held on home confinement pending trial, a condition that he had challenged five times since an initial appearance in August 2019. The condition was affirmed by the appeals court twice, and Donziger is not entitled to dismissal of the contempt charges because of the condition, Preska said.

A prosecutor appointed by Kaplan had contended that Donziger disobeyed court orders when he:

• Missed a deadline to provide a list of his electronic devices and accounts (count I).

• Failed to surrender his electronic devices for imaging (count II).

• Refused to surrender his passport (count III).

• Refused to completely and timely transfer to the Chevron Corp. his contingent fee interests in the Chevron judgment (counts IV and V).

• 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 (count VI).

Preska said prosecutors had proven each element of criminal contempt beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Contrary to Mr. Donziger’s assertion that his conviction was ‘pre-ordained,’ the court finds him guilty on each count for one reason and one reason only: Mr. Donziger did that with which he is charged. Period,” Preska wrote.

See also: “Lawyer accused of obtaining fraudulent environmental verdict against Chevron is disbarred” “Lawyer blasted by judge for conduct in Chevron case should get his law license back, ethics referee says”

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