Wall Street Journal Censors Letter Defending Prominent U.S. Attorney Who Won $9.5b Judgment Against Chevron
WSJ Editors Deem Letter to Editor Defending Steven Donziger Too Dangerous for Its Readers
NEW YORK, NY - Top-level editors at the Wall Street Journal have ordered the removal of a letter to the editor that was slated to run July 23 defending prominent corporate accountability attorney Steven Donziger after he was attacked for winning a landmark pollution judgment against Chevron.
The censored letter, submitted by Greenpeace co-founder and environmental activist Rex Weyler, was laid out on the WSJ letters page and scheduled to run until “higher ups” in the company’s executive suites “killed it”, according to a phone communication Weyler received from Timothy Lemmer, the highly respected editor of the Wall Street Journal’s letters page.
Weyler said Lemmer told him. “I had it on the page. It was going to run. It was killed above my pay grade.” Lemmer already had asked Weyler to cut his letter from 480 words to 272 words for publication, which was done.
“Apparently, a modest letter in defense of a corporate accountability attorney, who held Chevron accountable in court, was deemed too dangerous for the readers of the Wall Street Journal,” said Weyler. “Censorship of my letter serves the interests of Chevron and its Big Lie about Ecuador, but it does not serve the interests of an independent press. It shows how easily the Wall Street Journal bows to corporate pressure and its big advertisers.”
Weyler’s letter responded to a WSJ editorial published July 14 with the title “Steven Donziger Gets His Due” in which it accused the lawyer of the “attempted looting” of Chevron for “spurious” environmental crimes in Ecuador. It was the seventh time in the last ten years that the paper’s editorial board or a columnist has attacked Donziger for his work on behalf of Indigenous peoples and farmer communities in Ecuador, who suffer from impacts related to Chevron’s dumping of billions of gallons of toxic oil waste into the rainforest as a cost-saving measure.
The affected communities won a $9.5 billion pollution judgment against Chevron in 2011 after a Ecuadorian trial court – in the venue where Chevron insisted the case be heard – found the company had poisoned streams and rivers relied on by local communities for their drinking water. The pollution plunged the region into a humanitarian crisis that Donziger calls a “slow genocide” that has killed or threatens to kill thousands of people with cancer and other oil-related diseases. Chevron has hired 60 law firms and spent an estimated $2 billion fighting the judgment.
(Here is a summary of the evidence against Chevron; here is a summary of studies showing high cancer rates.)
Donziger has attracted wide support from prominent lawyers in the U.S. and Canada, musicians such as Roger Waters, Indigenous leaders such as Phil Fontaine (former National Chief of Canada) and Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, and environmental activists including Weyler and Atossa Soltani, the founder of Amazon Watch. The affected communities in Ecuador also have flooded Donziger with letters of support.
Weyler’s letter that the WSJ editors spiked is printed here in full:
Your editorial, "Steven Donziger Gets His Due," lacks perspective on the evidence against Chevron and the reputation of Mr. Donziger. Transcripts from the Ecuadorean and US trials, and visits to the polluted regions of Ecuador, suggest that the Ecuadorean judgment against Chevron appears rigorous and fair.
In 1993, when 30,000 victims filed a class action claim against Chevron, the company demanded a trial in Ecuador and accepted jurisdiction there. The court reviewed 105 technical reports and 64,000 chemical sampling results, and found Chevron guilty of polluting a 1,500 sq. mile region of the Amazon Basin, leading to a cancer epidemic. Three appellate courts confirmed the ruling.
You claim that Judge Kaplan in New York "exonerated" Chevron. However, under international comity rules, it is not possible for any nation's court to "exonerate" a defendant, convicted in a foreign court.
In contrast to the equitable proceedings in Ecuador, Judge Kaplan appeared biased against the victims and their lawyer. He relied almost exclusively on the testimony of Alberto Guerra. Chevron has paid Guerra at least $2 million in cash and benefits in exchange his testimony, alleging that Donziger had written the judgment for the court.
During an arbitration under the US-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty, Guerra admitted under oath that he had lied to Chevron's lawyers and to Judge Kaplan. His story crumbled when forensic analysis showed that the Ecuadorean trial judge had written the judgment himself over three months on his own computer.
The evidence suggests that Chevron is guilty of massive pollution, and that Mr. Donziger remains an honorable lawyer, who has devoted 25 years service to the victims of that pollution.
Cortes Island, Canada
In 2009, Chevron disclosed its main litigation strategy was to “demonize Donziger” and intimidate lawyers from working on the case. To further retaliate, Chevron sued Donziger and several of his Ecuadorian clients before New York judge Lewis A. Kaplan for $60 billion, still considered the largest potential liability for anybody in U.S. history. Chevron then dropped the entirety of the damages claim on the eve of trial to avoid a jury of impartial fact finders, but in 2014 Kaplan found against Donziger without considering any of the environmental evidence against the company.
In the meantime, three appellate courts in Ecuador – including the country’s Constitutional Court – confirmed the judgment against Chevron and rejected Kaplan's findings. As Weyler pointed out in his censored letter, Chevron’s case before Kaplan fell apart after evidence emerged after trial that the company paid – or bribed, as Donziger maintains -- its star witness Guerra $2 million and coached him for 53 days prior to presenting false testimony. The witness, Alberto Guerra, later admitted he had lied on several key points that Kaplan relied on for his erroneous findings.
(Here is a detailed documentation of Chevron’s witness fraud and bribery of Guerra. Here is a criminal referral letter to the U.S. Department of Justice of Chevron and its lawyers at the firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher for bribing a witness to present false evidence. Here is background on Gibson Dunn’s many ethical violations, including the fabrication of evidence in a prior case. Here is a summary of Chevron’s intimidation campaign written by Weyler.)
Four years later, Kaplan’s disputed and largely erroneous findings were used by the New York bar grievance committee to designate Donziger as an “immediate threat to the public order” and deny him a hearing before suspending his law license – the action that the WSJ celebrated in the editorial that Weyler responded to by sending in his letter. Donziger, a graduate of Harvard Law School, has never received even one client complaint in 25 years of legal practice and has been the recipient of numerous testimonials from lawyers, academics, and activists.
Donziger is currently appealing the grievance committee’s decision.
In further reaction to his letter being removed, Weyler said:
“Chevron killed this letter. They won't tolerate even the tiniest voice challenging their giant lie about Ecuador. And it is shameful that Walls Street Journal and other media have abandoned real journalism to go along with their corporate patrons. This is the journalism version of Steven Donziger’s suspension from the practice of law without a hearing: You get slammed by a newspaper that censors even a modest response.
“Consider the sequence,” Weyler added. “Decades of reckless pollution in Ecuador for profit by Chevron. A proven court judgment against them based on voluminous scientific evidence. Judge Kaplan. One man. No jury. One bribed witness. Suspension without a hearing. A controlled media assassination, and they won’t even allow a citizen to stand up to defend Steven Donziger, much less, mention the original victims. This is the modern version of the corporation as infallible, tyrannical, and imperious lord of the realm.”
Weyler, who has authored three books and worked as an environmental activist for almost five decades, earlier blasted Chevron for committing “ecological crimes” in Ecuador after visiting the affected region. He recently published a long expose of Chevron’s witness bribery and corruption in the Ecuador case, available here.
In the meantime, several members of the U.S. legal community have harshly criticized New York bar staff attorneys Jorge Dopico and Naomi Goldstein for designating Donziger as an “immediate threat to the public order”. Those defending Donziger include prominent attorneys Rick Friedman, Marty Garbus, and Harvard Law Professor Charles Nesson. (See here.)