Donziger vs. Chevron

“Chevron Kills”
“Chevron Kills” by Just Mason

On October 1, human rights lawyer Steven Donziger was sentenced to 6 months in federal prison for criminal contempt of court. The sentencing is the latest in a years-long effort to punish Donziger for his work in securing an historic settlement for the people of Ecuador in their case against Chevron’s destructive pollution. The landmark 2013 settlement was the largest civil suit ever won against a fossil fuel company. Chevron/Texaco was ordered to pay $9.5 billion to clean up contaminated areas of the Ecuadorian landscape, including parts of the Amazon rainforest. The court also found the fossil fuel behemoth liable for the medical bills of Ecuadorians whose health had been affected by air and water pollution as a result of oil extraction.

In 2014, Chevron filed a lawsuit in New York state against Donziger and a number of Ecuadorians, accusing them of a slew of charges, including racketeering, bribery and fraud. Donziger was ordered by federal judge Lewis Kaplan to turn over documents related to the settled case, which he refused to do on grounds of attorney-client privilege. Judge Kaplan directed the Southern District federal prosecutor to bring criminal contempt charges against Donziger, but was denied, as Donziger had every right to refuse this spurious order. Undeterred, Kaplan then chose Rita Glavin, an attorney from a private firm, to prosecute Donziger. A maneuver such as this is virtually unheard of, and represents not only a clear conflict of interest, but collusion between the judicial apparatus of the state and corporate interests.

Steven Donziger on house arrest
Steven Donziger on house arrest

Donziger has been on house arrest in New York for over two years, and will be appealing this latest ruling by judge Loretta Preska. It is obvious that Donziger is being used as an example to those who would consider taking on fossil capital. Meanwhile, Chevron has yet to pay a single cent of the restitution ordered by the Ecuadorian courts in 2013. This case has garnered little attention from mainstream media fixtures, including The New York Times, which has inexplicably failed to cover the railroading of a U.S. citizen in New York’s courts. When there has been coverage, it has often framed Donziger as a criminal upstart, rather than as the human rights attorney he clearly is. Anyone concerned about the role of the fossil fuel industry in the climate crisis, the future of corporate accountability, or human rights violations within the criminal justice system, should be up in arms about this case.

For other independent media coverage of this story, see:



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