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31 Aug 2020

Chris Hedges, Scheerpost

Commentary: Legal proceedings against environmental lawyer Steven Donziger are a symptom of corporate capture of US institutions

Shutterstock (purchased)

"Chris Hedges: How Corporate Tyranny Works", 25 August 2020.

...Donziger, who has been fighting polluting American oil companies for nearly three decades on behalf of indigenous communities and peasant farmers in Ecuador, has been under house arrest in Manhattan for a year. He will go to trial in federal court in New York on September 9 on contempt of court charges, which could see him jailed for six months...

Chevron, which had left Ecuador, went back to the New York court, where Donziger had originally filed the lawsuit before Chevron got a change of venue to Ecuador, and sued him, using a civil courts portion of the federal law famous for breaking the New York Mafia in the 1970s, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. In effect, “They sued me as a civil racketeer, under a civil RICO statute for $60 billion,” he said. “That was the largest amount of money an American individual ever had been sued for. This began a ten-year campaign to demonize me by Chevron and by its judicial allies.”

Chevron, which has more than $260 billion in assets, has hired an estimated 2,000 lawyers from 60 law firms to carry out its campaign, according to court documents. The oil giant dropped its demand for financial damages weeks before the RICO trial, which would have necessitated a jury trial. Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, a former lawyer for the tobacco industry who had undisclosed investments in funds with Chevron holdings, according to his public financial disclosure statement, decided the RICO case alone...In the end, Kaplan ruled that the judgment in the Ecuadorean court against Chevron was the result of fraud. He also ordered Donziger to turn over decades of all client communication to Chevron, in effect eradicating attorney-client privilege, a backbone of the Anglo-American legal system...

When his criminal contempt charges against the environmental lawyer were ignored by the U.S. attorney’s office for over five years, Judge Kaplan, using an exceedingly rare judicial maneuver, appointed the private law firm of Seward & Kissel, to act in the name of the government to prosecute Donziger. Neither the judge nor the law firm disclosed that Chevron has been a client of Seward & Kissel.

Kaplan also violated the established random case assignment protocol to personally assign Loretta Preska, a member of the right-wing Federalist Society, to hear the case. Chevron is a major donor to the Federalist Society...

The International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the international committee of the National Lawyers Guild issued a letter signed by more than 70 organizations calling the persecution of Donziger an “attack on the rule of law.” The letter said his house arrest was “unprecedented” and charged that he was being targeted for what it called “one of the most important corporate accountability and human rights cases of our time.” The letter accused Kaplan of “violating basic notions of fairness in the judicial process that lie at the core of the rule of law.”...

While The Nation, The Intercept and Courthouse News Service have reported on Donziger’s current legal battle, no major mainstream publication has touched it...