By Aaron Kesel
For over a decade, New York lawyer and activist Steven Donziger, of Donziger and Associates, has been fighting Chevron after the oil giant bought out Texaco. However, just when we think we’ve seen it all in the Chevron case, NY District Court Justice Lewis Kaplan seeks to prove we ain’t seen nothing yet. Judge Kaplan wants Amazonian lawyer, Steven Donziger, destroyed, at all costs!
This author was first made aware of the Amazonian villagers’ suffering, and the plight of Steven Donziger, due to Laser Haas, who is the whistleblower in this reporter’s Wall Street fraud protected by federal corruption series. (Is Goldman Sachs’ New CEO, David Solomon, on a Sinking Ship?)
NY Attorney Donziger worked as an activist lawyer his entire career. Donziger and others became the target of a civil “racketeering” lawsuit brought before a U.S. court, where the case was conducted without a jury (one of the most bizarre abuses of civil rights by Judge Kaplan).
Donziger won a $9 billion dollar judgment for the Ecuador Amazonian people concerning Texaco dumping 16 billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon forest between 1964 and 1990, as Activist Post has reported.
The abuse of due process is tiresome and unrelenting as Judge Kaplan has continuously demonstrated bias in the Chevron case, according to U.S. Appellate Attorney Deepak Gupta (who represented Donziger.)
In 1993, 47 Amazonian farmers filed a lawsuit representing 30,000 Ecuadorian farmers and indigenous tribal persons who then sued the company in a U.S. federal court at the behest of Donziger in New York according to Corp Watch.
Texaco then convinced the U.S. courts to move the case to Ecuador. Ecuadorian Judge Nicolas Zambrano ruled that Chevron should pay to clean up the toxic mess. Instead Texaco (Chevron) counter-sued in New York claiming that the verdict was obtained by fraud and coercion.
Chevron retaliated against Steven Donziger by filing a RICO lawsuit claiming that the case was rife with corruption, fraud and racketeering. Ironic, since the sole witness Chevron utilized against Donziger is an Ecuadorian Judge Alberto Guerra, who was thrown off his bench for corruption, admitted to lying, and Chevron confessed the witness had been paid $2 million dollars, Alternet reported.
On top of that, Judge Kaplan, has an investment in Chevron, which means that Kaplan should have recused himself from the case. Federal law requires U.S. judges are to disqualify themselves “in any proceeding in which” the judge’s “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”
Inexplicably and intolerably, Judge Kaplan is abusing his authority with extreme measures seeking to be coercive, to force Steven Donziger to turn over attorney-client privileged materials to Chevron, while having money invested in the same company — a breach of judicial ethics which prevents Kaplan from judging the case without bias.
Can you imagine a precedent like this being allowed to stand, where a judge can make a lawyer lose his practice simply because the justice is upset at a lawyer objecting (and appealing) the judge’s rulings?
Further, Bias is clearly visible as Judge Kaplan repeatably called the Ecuadorian villagers (who suffer illnesses from Texaco/Chevron toxic waste) to be “so-called plaintiffs.”
Going even further down the absurd rabbit hole in this case, Judge Kaplan flatly refused to allow the “plaintiffs” to produce evidence about massive environmental contamination caused by the oil giants.
Judge Kaplan denied a jury for the Ecuadorian villagers’ case against the oil company while Kaplan had investments in the oil companies, which is a requisite for the justice to be recused from the case.
Kaplan also dismissed the fact that Guerra was being paid $12,000 a month by Chevron, as well as being supplied with a personal lawyer and a car under the company “witness-protection program.” Despite this, Judge Kaplan refuses to recuse himself from the case, and has seen to it that Steven Donziger lost his law license by suspension as Activist Post reported.
Even worse, the tyrannical, conflicted judge, violated common sense and well-established legal principles by ordering Donziger to turn over all his cell phones and computers to Chevron; which contains attorney/client privileged information, a clear intimidation.
When Donziger properly objected and refused to surrender his rights, the day after this reporter’s article was published, Judge Kaplan escalated his abuse against the activist lawyer by ordering him to face ridiculous fines up to $200,000 per day for each day that he fails to turn over attorney-client privileged information.
When Donziger refused to do so, the out of bounds Judge Kaplan asked the Southern District of NY U.S. Attorney’s office to prosecute Donziger for contempt. Overall, this represents cruel and unusual punishment.
US judge Kaplan (below) threatened me with massive fines for refusing to give my computer and cell to @Chevron after my Indigenous clients in Ecuador won $12b pollution judgment. This is an assault on human rts and privacy by the judiciary. Read here:https://t.co/eg7IoK2S6H pic.twitter.com/UYPYQSlBhy
— Steven Donziger (@SDonziger) May 30, 2019
The SDNY U.S. Attorney office declined to prosecute Donziger and do the judge’s corrupt dirty work, Courthouse News reported.
If that’s not outrageous enough, the enraged judge by the refusal to prosecute, Judge Kaplan ordered a Special Prosecutor to indict Donziger and place him under house arrest as well as yank his passport, punishing him even further.
Letter to Editor published by New York Law Journal
There are many people who have spoken out on behalf of the Amazonians and Steven Donziger; including Pink Floyd Rock musician Roger Waters, NY Mayor Bill Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s press secretary Karen Hinton, along with activist gumshoe reporter Greg Palast who stated Donziger was “one of the greatest American heroes alive.”
The criminal #Chevron corporation, which spread childhood leukemia while destroying the Amazon rainforest, has figured out how to use a fascist judge to go after the most heroic American alive, @SDonziger, who spent his life fighting this petro monster. https://t.co/n6SuNTYhYa
— Greg Palast (@Greg_Palast) August 15, 2019
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More recently, the New York Law Journal published a letter to the editor from Attorney at Law Daniel L. Greenberg, who describes how upsetting it is that a judge would hire a private prosecutor to persecute Donziger.
Specifically, Greenberg wrote:
Of the three players in the criminal justice system—defendants, prosecutors and judges—critiques rarely begin with an observation that defendants have too much power. The discretion and resources of the prosecution are legion and of course, judges hold ultimate authority, while defendants are often literally at the mercy of both. So it was disconcerting to read about the order of a federal judge appointing a private attorney to pursue Steven Donziger, counsel in the civil Chevron case, for criminal contempt when the US Attorney’s office refused to prosecute. (NYLJ, P. 1, 8/14/19).
Greenberg continued his remarks that this is an abhorrent and wrongful indictment:
There are many remedies available to judges when they feel attorneys have abused the system; criminal relief should be used sparingly. Regardless of the merits, to wield it in a matter where the acrimony between the judge and counsel has been front-page news for many years brings to mind the maxim that the appearance of justice is as important as justice itself.
NGOs Speak Out
Amazon Watch, a U.S.-based environmental entity, is on the record stating that “Kaplan’s ethical lapses reflect terribly on the U.S. Judiciary and undermines the rule of law for everybody,” Paul Paz y Miño, Amazon Watch’s Director of Outreach said.
If that’s not enough, Global Witness, an international NGO that works to break the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption, and human rights abuses worldwide, recently wrote that, “Kaplan, relied heavily on testimony of a supposed “fact” witness–one whom Chevron acknowledged paying substantial sums–possibly, by now, up to at least $2 million in cash and benefits.
Global Witness Simon Taylor, seeking a criminal case against Chevron, wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Criminal Division, detailing the corruption-plagued case.
Siding with Donziger, Global Witness Taylor details the bad faith of Chevron and Judge Kaplan’s abuse of due process, stating:
For the avoidance of doubt, I must emphasise that we fully acknowledge the US’s generally excellent leadership record in the global fight against corruption.
These are achievements that the US should be proud of, which we at Global Witness celebrate.
This is why, over the years, we have frequently sought collaboration with various US law enforcement agencies. But the questionable circumstances around the manner in which the Civil Racketeering case seems to have been conducted, if true, would appear to standout as a kind of “festering sore”-one that we fear is leaving a stain on the generally strong reputation of the US judiciary and judicial system.
With each new effort, seemingly aimed at “destroying” Mr.Donziger’s professional reputation and ability to practice law, not to mention also to deny justice for his clients in Ecuador, that stain appears ever-more ugly.
Indeed, the conduct of this case increasingly looks like “money and might”are all one needs to prevail over vulnerable Indigenous peoples, regardless of the facts.
Such behaviour, not to mention the associated outcome to date, I have to say in the absence of a better explanation, appears more akin to the kind of corruption that we have documented in a myriad “Banana Republics” over the past two plus decades of our investigations.
Even the Chevron stockholders are revolting against Chevron’s CEO, Michael Wirth, who faces 2 major equity holders resolutions as a result of his mishandling of the Ecuador litigation (which has grown to $12 billion).
Chevron lost several legal battles in Ecuador, in large part due to the efforts of New York activist and attorney, Steven Donziger, who has been fighting for the Amazonian villagers against big oil. Now, the man is being punished for standing up to the oil giants for them failing to compensate victims, while the victims are hung out to dry.
Judge Kaplan is abusing the Amazonians, while seeking to destroy attorney at law Donziger, resultant of the fact that there’s not enough public outcry, or media attention to the tyranny, cronyism, corruption, and cover-ups seeking to protect Chevron. Kaplan is allowing the company to get away totally ‘Scot Free’ with the profits made off from the Ecuadoran Amazon forest environmental damages.
Donziger’s case highlights the many things wrong with our crony capitalistic society, from judicial corruption to corporations having too much power. Tyrannical leaders of schemes, cronies and corrupts are unified in protecting their evil deeds, from being held accountable.
Anyone who isn’t blind or willfully blind to justice can see that a judge referring to victims of Chevron’s ecological terrorism as “so-called plaintiffs,” siding with a company that he himself also has money invested in, is not fit to serve the bench.
Although arson and climate change are certainly possibilities for the recent Amazonian wild fires in Brazil, oil barons carelessly mining for fossil fuels that then spill or leak destroying our environment, have as much to blame for the destruction of our rainforests and reservoirs, which activist lawyer Steven Donziger is one of few fighting against.
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