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October 28, 2021

Chevron wins case to jail lawyer

Environmental lawyer Steven Donziger surrendered himself to authorities on Wednesday, following a lengthy legal battle with oil major Chevron.

By Scarlett Evans

Environmental and human rights lawyer Steven Donziger surrendered himself to federal authorities on Wednesday this week, following a lengthy legal battle with oil major Chevron. Donziger, who won a $9.5bn settlement against the company in 1993 for oil waste dumped on Indigenous land in Ecuador, was found guilty of contempt of court in July this year.  

He was also disbarred from working in New York in 2019, and has been in home detention since August that same year. 

According to Chevron, Donziger fabricated and withheld evidence to strengthen his case, with the oil major maintaining that Ecuador’s domestic oil company Petroecuador was responsible for the oil spill. 

While the ruling at the time was a landmark decision as the largest sum won against an oil major, Chevron has not yet paid the money or enacted a cleanup, and a Manhattan judge ruled against the $9.5bn judging in 2014, saying it had been won through illicit means such as bribery and fraud.

The oil major then brought the case against Donziger, which escalated into a criminal case when he failed to hand over his electronic devices to the courts.  

While the US attorney for the Southern District of New York refused to prosecute for the case, Chevron hired private law firm Seward & Kissel to take it on. 

Donziger appealed the contempt of court decision, citing an opinion by independent United Nations experts that his treatment thus far (and specifically his home confinement) violated international human rights law. His appeal was, however, unsuccessful, and the latest ruling will see him facing a six-month prison sentence.  

The activist, in an interview with the Guardian in March, said that the situation had grown to become “planned targeting by a corporation to destroy my life”. 

Tweeting about the sentencing on Tuesday, he said: 

“After 100 pages of legal briefing, the appellate court today denied my release in 10 words. This is not due process of law. Nor is it justice.” 

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