By James North
The right to a jury of your peers is a central feature of the American system of justice. Steven Donziger, the environmentalist lawyer who is being persecuted by Chevron and two New York federal judges, is going on trial, again. He could be sentenced to six months in prison, and, again, a jury will not decide his fate.
Because of Covid-19, there has not been an in-person criminal trial in the Southern District of New York federal courts since March. Donziger’s latest trial, for “contempt,” was set to begin on September 9. Back in July, Donziger’s attorneys asked for a postponement, arguing that the health risk would prevent them from representing him in person. Judge Loretta Preska waited until 5 PM on September 4 before ruling that the trial could be delayed, but only until November 3. She had already turned down Donziger’s request for a jury. Donziger said that Preska’s delay until the last minute had caused him, his family, and his lawyers “a great deal of stress.”
Donziger has already served 13 months under house arrest awaiting this trial in his New York City apartment. Last month, he was disbarred in New York State. Some six years ago, he was convicted of “racketeering” in federal district court.
In none of these cases did Donziger ever get the chance to argue for justice before a jury of his peers.
In 2013 Donziger helped win a landmark legal case in Ecuador against Chevron for contaminating a vast stretch of rain forest in the Amazon headwaters larger than the state of Rhode Island. The Ecuadorean courts awarded the 30,000 plaintiffs, who are poor rural farmers and indigenous people, $9.5 billion to clean up the damage.
Instead of obeying the judgment and starting the cleanup, the oil giant counterattacked.