Denial of Fair Trial: Steven Donziger Issues Statement on 4th Adjournment of His Contempt Case After 16 Months of House Arrest

New York, NY – Judge Loretta Preska's fourth adjournment of Steven Donziger's misdemeanor contempt case does virtually nothing to cure the deep constitutional-level defects that are denying him a fair trial and keeping him wrongfully detained at the urging of Chevron, the human rights lawyer said in an official statement released this week.

Donziger, who in 2013 helped Indigenous peoples and farmer communities in Ecuador’s Amazon win a historic $9.5 billion pollution judgment against Chevron, was charged in 2018 by Preska and a second federal judge with criminal contempt for refusing to turn over his confidential case file, computer, and cell phone to the oil major.

The lawfulness of the order, considered a likely violation of attorney-client privilege, is currently being reviewed by a federal appellate court in New York. In the meantime, Donziger has received extensive support from 55 Nobel Laureates and hundreds of lawyers around the world who are demanding he be released and the case dismissed.

Preska and the charging judge, Lewis A. Kaplan, both have ties to Chevron. Preska is a member of the Chevron-funded Federalist Society, a pro-corporate legal organization. Kaplan has investments in mutual funds that own Chevron stock, according to his financial disclosure forms.

The U.S. federal prosecutor in New York refused to prosecute the charges, prompting Kaplan to name a private law firm to target Donziger in the name of the government. The law firm, Seward & Kissel, later admitted that it had Chevron as a client in 2018 and that it maintains client relationships with several Chevron-related entities in the oil and gas industry.

Here is the full statement of Steven Donziger, issued on November 9, 2020:



November 9, 2020The last-minute adjournment on Saturday of my misdemeanor criminal contempt trial by U.S. Judge Loretta Preska does virtually nothing to cure the fundamental constitutional-level defects that are denying me a fair trial.

Judge Preska has now delayed my trial four times while keeping me under house arrest with an ankle bracelet for 16 months. This is a term of custody which far exceeds any punishment the court could levy if I were to be convicted. Meanwhile, the Indigenous peoples in Ecuador who have been my clients for 27 years are still suffering from horrific oil contamination caused by Chevron that has been confirmed by six appellate courts in two countries. It is unprecedented for a human rights lawyer in the U.S. to be charged criminally after he successfully won a major pollution judgment against a corporation.

I have said repeatedly that it is wrong for U.S. Judges Preska and Lewis A. Kaplan to charge me with criminal contempt after the U.S. Attorney's office rejected the case. The evidence shows that I have not committed a crime and that any disputes with the court were the result of my zealous and legitimate defense of my clients in the context of a civil discovery dispute with Chevron. I believe Judge Kaplan charged me to punish me for challenging and appealing his own unprecedented and potentially illegal decisions targeting the Ecuadorian communities.

It is also highly concerning that after the criminal contempt charges against me were rejected by the federal prosecutor, Judge Kaplan appointed a private law firm to prosecute me. He has refused to disclose what appear to be his ongoing ex parte communications with the private prosecutor, Rita Glavin – communications that appear to be a serious breach of the law and judicial ethics. It is also wrong for Judge Kaplan to have appointed Judge Preska without complying with the random case selection process mandated by court rules. More disturbing yet, it turns out that Judge Preska is a leader of the Federalist Society, of which Chevron is a major donor; and, that private prosecutor Glavin’s law firm, Seward & Kissel, has as clients Chevron and several Chevron-related entities in the oil industry.

Given Chevron’s leading role, my contempt case is riddled with conflicts of interest. The charging judge (Kaplan), the presiding judge (Preska), and the prosecutor (Glavin) all have ties to Chevron. Not coincidentally, it appears I am the only lawyer in U.S. history detained prior to trial on a criminal contempt charge.

Along with 55 Nobel Laureates who have issued a statement of support, I am calling for:

  • Immediate dismissal of the case;

  • My release from house arrest;

  • Assignment of any remaining issues to an unbiased judge consistent with the random case selection rules.

New York, New York