Is it time to prosecute Steven Donziger over the Chevron Shakedown?

Earlier this month I wrote about the end of the line for the Chevron Shakedown crew, when their final appeal was turned away at the Supreme Court. It’s a long, sordid story which we’ve been covering here for years. If you’ve been following even a smattering of this tale you know most of the major details and the players involved.

The fraudulently obtained judgement in Ecuador which sought to drain tens of billions of dollars from Chevron was a disgrace. And the architect at the center of all of it was Manhattan attorney Steven Donziger. So spectacular were the lengths he went to in an effort to pick Chevron’s pockets that he was successfully sued by Chevron under federal racketeering laws. The judge in the case read off a laundry list of descriptions of precisely how fraudulent the attempted lawsuit had been, invoking words like coercion, bribery, corruption and money laundering.

Now at least the United States portion of that unpleasantness is over and everyone can go home and get on with their lives, right? Well… let’s not be so hasty. I’ll freely admit that it never even crossed my mind before now, but the editors at National Review have proposed one additional step which might need to be taken. Given the staggering mountain of evidence as to his wrongdoing in this case and the intentional nature of what he tried to perpetrate, why can’t the Justice Department bring charges against Donziger and make him answer for his deeds? Read this brief passage carefully.

Judge Kaplan all but called for filing charges against Donziger and his allies in this matter, and now we call for them explicitly: The case against Chevron was, as the courts have affirmed, the product of egregious fraud, not only among corrupt politicians and judges in Ecuador but also among lawyers and political operatives here in the United States, all of them part of a fundamentally corrupt enterprise to pervert the legal system — and the well-intentioned concerns of environmentalists — into a ruthless ripoff with tens of billions of dollars at stake. Oil companies may not be very sympathetic defendants, but Chevron has been obliged to spend millions upon millions of dollars defending itself from these claims. And Chevron shareholders, who ultimately foot the bill for this, aren’t cigar-chewing Texas oilmen: Two of the largest public-pension systems in the United States, those belonging to California and New York, are major institutional investors in Chevron. That’s whom this extortion attempt ultimately was aimed at.

The evidence all suggests that Steven Donziger and his allies were involved in a criminal conspiracy to extort billions of dollars from Chevron and that they used corrupt means, ranging from evidence tampering to outright bribery, to do it. This can and should produce a criminal prosecution in the United States, and we call on the United States Department of Justice to undertake it.

You know why this didn’t cross my mind? I believe it’s because we’re all so used to seeing lawyers get up to all sorts of shenanigans in court that it never crosses our mind to hold them accountable. People bring all sorts of nuisance lawsuits all the time. If they are ridiculous enough they may be dismissed early in the proceedings but a skillful lawyer can often go a long way with them. It’s just their job, right?

Perhaps not in this case. Judges have already looked this situation over and determined that Donziger worked with an army of other people to falsify records, elicit false testimony and engage in a pattern of misbehavior suitable for consideration under federal racketeering statutes. Doesn’t that sound like conspiracy to defraud a company of billions of dollars? And isn’t that still a crime?

National Review has the right idea. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty but this case has already been examined in the courts ad nauseam. The Justice Department should open up an investigation and bring charges if they are warranted. Perhaps that will dissuade some other pickpocket artists from attempting similar acts in the future.