Updated: Apr 28, 2021
Ocasio-Cortez, McGovern, Raskin, Bush, Bowman and Tlaib Urge Justice Department to Intervene as Steven Donziger Faces Federal Prosecution Tainted by Chevron
Famed Human Rights Lawyer Endures over 600-Days of House Arrest While Awaiting Trial on a Misdemeanor
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
WASHINGTON DC – Six members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have sent an urgent letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, urging that the Department of Justice reassert jurisdiction over and immediately review the case of famed human rights attorney Steven Donziger who faces trial on May 10th in the Southern District of New York on a misdemeanor contempt charge that has resulted in him enduring over 600-days of house arrest.
Donziger, who represented indigenous people in the Ecuadoran amazon basin, led the legal team that won a historic $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron in 2013. The big oil giant was found guilty of dumping over 16 billion gallons of oil sludge in this irreplaceable region, resulting in wide-spread environmental devastation that has caused thousands of cases of rare cancers and other debilitating conditions which are still inflicting needless pain and suffering caused by Chevron’s shameful and reckless conduct.
In their letter to Attorney General Garland, U.S. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) NY, James McGovern (D) MA, Jamie Raskin (D) MD, Cori Bush (D) MO, Jamaal Bowman (D) NY and Rashida Tlaib (D) MI, said in-part:
“Mr. Donziger has been subjected to an unprecedented 600-plus days of pre-trial house arrest while awaiting trial on a petty misdemeanor charge resulting from a discovery dispute.”
“We are unaware of such restriction being imposed on any other lawyer in the United States facing a similar allegation.”
“We have deep concerns that the unprecedented nature of Mr. Donziger’s pending legal case is tied to his previous work against Chevron.”
“This case involved urgent environmental justice concerns of Indigenous people. As you may be aware, Indigenous people of the Amazon basin have long been subjected to deadly, carcinogenic waste from oil and gas production in one of the world’s most fragile and irreplaceable regions.”
“We urge you to act quickly to conduct an immediate and full and fair review of the deeply concerning process by which Mr. Donziger’s current case has played out, and the deeply troubling signal it sends to frontline communities in urgent need of legal support.”
To read the full congressional letter to USAG Garland, please go to: donziger_042621.pdf (house.gov)
At a recent press availability outside his district office, Congressman Jim McGovern (D) MA, Chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, who has personally visited Chevron’s “Amazon Chernobyl” in Ecuador said, “Chevron walked away after polluting and area of Ecuador the size of Rhode Island. Steven Donziger exposed the truth.”
The U.S. Department of Justice declined to press charges against Mr. Donziger on the misdemeanor charge. The prosecution was initiated by special order of U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan who appointed a private New York law firm with a direct client relationship to Chevron to handle the case.
The Chevron-linked lawyer prosecuting Donziger, Rita Glavin, worked at a law firm (Seward & Kissel) that not only represents Chevron, but works closely with several entities in the oil industry – a flagrant conflict of interest.
Thus far, U.S. taxpayers have paid more than $500,000 to fund this corporate-sponsored prosecution of a human rights champion who refuses to surrender his client’s privileged information.
Chevron deliberately committed one of the worst environmental crimes in history and created a health crisis impacting more than 30,000 Amazonian inhabitants, but has yet to pay to clean up any of the 16 billion gallons of toxic waste it admitted to dumping.
This letter from Members of Congress to the Department of Justice concerned about issues of environmental justice, especially on behalf of communities affected by the fossil fuel industry is incredibly important and damaging to Chevron because it has spent billions to escape liability in the United States and to demonize its victims and their allies.
If lawyers like Steven Donziger, who fight for the rights of frontline communities, are silenced, and criminalized in the U.S. it is a threat to the entire climate justice movement. As Reps. McGovern, Raskin, Bush, Bowman, Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez stated: "It is vital that attorneys working on behalf of victims of human rights violations and negative environmental impacts of corporations not become criminalized for their work."
The Donziger case has recently attracted the attention of several media outlets around the world, including The Guardian; Esquire; The Nation, Vice News, and The Intercept. In addition, 55 Nobel laureates and hundreds of prominent lawyers have demanded Donziger’s immediate release and dismissal of the case.
In February, Amnesty International USA, Amazon Watch and 11 other human rights and environmental groups wrote to Attorney General Garland demanding a similar intervention. In addition, 200 lawyers recently submitted a 50-page misconduct complaint against Kaplan for his targeting of Donziger.