It’s been a while since we checked in on Steven Donziger, the disgraced former attorney at the heart of the Chevron Shakedown. (For those not familiar, you can review our ongoing coverage of this story over the past several years here.) During his many attempts to convince courts in multiple countries to enforce a rigged judgment against Chevron from a court in Ecuador, he was repeatedly found to have engaged in fraud to obtain that order and he was eventually ordered to pay a number of fines and legal costs for the oil and gas giant. He was also disbarred in every place where he had previously been allowed to practice law. But Donziger continued to protest his innocence and refused to pay, eventually finding himself under house arrest, a fact that he also protested. Yesterday, Donziger received something else to protest that he might take more seriously. Instead of house arrest, a judge sentenced him to six months in jail. (Bloomberg)
Steven Donziger, the disbarred lawyer who once won an $8.6 billion judgment against Chevron Corp. over contamination of the Amazon rain forest, was sentenced to six months in jail for defying court orders.
The award was ultimately scrapped, and Donziger was ruled to have won it through fraud and bribery, but he has remained a hero to many environmental activists. Dozens, including Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, protested his prosecution outside the Manhattan federal courthouse on Friday, and videos tagged #freedonziger have been viewed more than 700,000 times on TikTok.
But U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska, who found Donziger guilty of six counts of criminal contempt after a trial in July, wasn’t swayed. She detailed what she characterized as Donziger’s prolonged, repeated refusal to obey court orders, musing that “it seems only the proverbial two-by-four between the eyes” would get him to properly respect the law.
The judge in this case was just throwing the book at Donziger and not mincing words. In addition to the comment about a “two-by-four between the eyes,” she said he had spent the last seven years “thumbing his nose at the U.S. judicial system.” She concluded by saying, “Now it’s time to pay the piper.”
Six months was the maximum sentence she was able to give Donziger on charges of disobeying court orders and refusing to pay the previous judgments against him. Somehow I don’t think Chevron is losing any sleep over not getting his money but is more interested in making an example of him as one more lawyer who attempted to pick some deep pockets, assuming that the company would just pay rather than endure some long legal battle. It turned out that he was wrong.
This development might not have even merited a mention here were it not for the social aspect of Donziger’s story. As it turns out, he’s become quite the social media star, particularly on Tik Tok, where videos carrying the #FreeDonziger tag receive hundreds of thousands of views. He’s even garnered celebrity endorsements.
Sadly, all of this support and attention is coming from people who clearly have never looked into the case very deeply and simply accepted Donziger’s proven, false claims. He painted himself as a champion for both the environment and the impoverished people of Ecuador, fighting against Chevron like some sort of global warming David against Goliath. He was trying to make a huge fossil fuel industry company pay out billions of dollars, so that made him a hero among the global warming crowd.
That’s all it took. He attracted huge crowds of followers who wanted to protest the “injustices” visited upon Donziger. It was all based on lies, of course. The multibillion-dollar judgment against Chevron in Ecuador was handed down by a corrupt court, involving bizarre stories of bribery and forged documents. But for all of his “superfans” who never bothered to read any further than the headlines and his own press releases, Donziger was treated like a hero. Of course, the higher you rise, the further you have to fall. Perhaps they can all send him fan letters to pass the time in jail.