Washington, D.C. – Thirteen international human rights and environmental watchdog organizations sent an open letter to the U.S. Department of Justice asking it to launch a high-level review of the retaliatory “SLAPP” lawsuits Chevron brought against the lawyer who helped 30,000 Indigenous peoples and farmer communities in Ecuador win a landmark $9.5 billion judgment against the company for massive oil pollution. The letter requests “a top-to-bottom review of the ongoing and extraordinarily disturbing legal attacks that Chevron Corporation and its counsel, has inflicted and orchestrated against renowned human rights lawyer Steven Donziger in the federal court system.”
Leaders at Amnesty International, Global Witness, Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network, and other human rights advocates are joining 55 Nobel Laureates and hundreds of international lawyers calling for the Department of Justice to review the unethical tactics Chevron has used to avoid paying the court judgment, specifically by targeting Mr. Donziger, who played a major role in organizing the international team that brought and won the case.
According to Simon Taylor, Director of Global Witness in London, “The attack on Steven Donziger by Chevron, Judge Kaplan, and his appointed private prosecutors is not only a violation of Mr. Donziger’s human rights, but represents an additional attack on the 30,000 victims of Chevron’s pollution in Ecuador. It also is an attempt to intimidate human rights activists all over the world.”
“It’s shocking that members of the European Parliament, 55 Nobel Laureates, and scores of international organizations and prominent leaders have requested the U.S. government investigate a serious abuse of power and violation of rights, yet not a single Congressional office nor government official has even reviewed this case. This lack of action will not stand,” said Paul Paz y Miño, Associate Director of Amazon Watch.
The coalition of human rights and environmental groups is asking the U.S. Department of Justice to review the entire decade-long attack on Donziger and on the original 30,000 plaintiffs, the fabricated evidence against Donziger, the lies told by Chevron’s key witness Alberto Guerra, and the conflicts of interest borne by Kaplan, Preska, and the Seward & Kissel law firm. Many of the same organizations have already called for the release of Donziger from home detention and for dismissal of the fraudulent, retaliatory case.
These actions will allow Mr. Donziger to return to his human rights work and will allow those affected by Chevron’s massive pollution to collect the court judgement against the company in the United States or in other jurisdictions around the world.
Graham Clumpner, Protect the Protest task force Coordinator and Mosquito Fleet Field Organizer, says: “SLAPPs masquerade as legitimate lawsuits, but are an abuse of the court system and a threat to democracy. For decades, powerful interests have filed these meritless lawsuits, knowing they can’t win but hoping to intimidate and silence public watchdogs. There is no better example of a powerful corporation trying to silence its opponents than this one. On one hand, you have a human rights lawyer trying to uphold justice for Indigenous communities in Ecuador, and on the other hand you have one of the world’s biggest oil companies, trying to hide their skeletons in the closet and make this scandal go away, at any cost.”
“It is beyond outrageous that Chevron, already found guilty and ordered to pay billions of dollars, has yet to be held accountable for its crimes in the Amazon, while longtime environmental and human rights advocate Steven Donziger has been imprisoned in his home for over 18 months now by a fanatical judge with a known bias for Chevron’s corporate interests,” said Ginger Cassady with Rainforest Action Network. “The continued, arbitrary detention of Mr. Donziger sets a very dangerous precedent that violates the core concepts of justice and freedom in the United States judicial system.”
The letter was sent on behalf of the following human rights and environmental justice organizations: Amazon Watch, Amnesty International USA, Civil Liberties Defense Center, Climate Defense Project, Global Witness, Mosquito Fleet, National Lawyers Guild, Pachamama Alliance, Palestine Legal, Protect the Protest, Publish What You Pay-US, Rainforest Action Network, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Since losing the court case in Ecuador in 2011, Chevron – abetted by hundreds of lawyers at the U.S. law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher – has attacked and tried to demonize Mr. Donziger and his clients to the corporate-friendly, presiding Judge, Lewis A. Kaplan. The company fabricated evidence of alleged misconduct by paying millions of dollars in cash and benefits to its star witness, Alberto Guerra, who later admitted that he lied under oath. Forensic evidence also showed that Guerra’s testimony and Chevron’s misconduct claims were entirely false.
Kaplan accepted the fabricated evidence and ordered Mr. Donziger to surrender privileged and confidential phone and computer records to Chevron. When Mr. Donziger refused to disclose this information and appealed Judge Kaplan’s order, Kaplan retaliated by charging him with criminal contempt even as the appeal was still pending. When the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York refused to prosecute the alleged contempt, Kaplan appointed his own judge – Loretta Preska, a member of the pro-corporate Federalist Society, an organization where Chevron is a major donor. Preska then ordered Donziger to be placed under home detention, where he has been held for over 18 months, on a misdemeanor charge that would only carry a 6-month sentence if convicted.
Kaplan also appointed his own private prosecution team, composed of lawyers from Seward & Kissel, a law firm with oil industry clients that represented Chevron. It has now been revealed, through disclosures ordered by a New York federal court, that this Chevron-linked law firm has billed taxpayers at least $464,000 to prosecute Mr. Donziger on a petty misdemeanor after the charges were rejected by the U.S. Attorney. In contrast, courts pay lawyers who defend misdemeanor cases a maximum of $3,200.
Kaplan, a former tobacco industry defense lawyer, now faces a major misconduct complaint signed by 200 lawyers who allege he has abusively targeted Donziger for 10 years to help protect Chevron from having to pay the Ecuador judgment. Hundreds of other lawyers issued a letter of support for Mr. Donziger in which they critique the various violations of law carried out by Chevron’s lawyers and Judges Kaplan and Preska.