Donziger Legal Team Blasts New York Appellate Court for Refusing Release After 600 Days of Home Imprisonment on a Misdemeanor Charge

New York – In a shocking decision, a New York appellate today refused again to release U.S. human rights lawyer Steven Donziger even though he has been imprisoned at home for almost two years on a misdemeanor charge where the maximum ever imposed on a lawyer is only 90 days of home confinement.

Donziger’s lawyers blasted the decision as “unjust” and an “inconceivable level of corruption” for the United States judiciary. The federal prosecutor refused to charge Donziger, prompting a Chevron-linked judge to charge Donziger himself after he refused to turn over his computer and cell phone to Chevron due to attorney-client privilege.

The judge, Lewis A. Kaplan, appointed the private Chevron law firm Seward & Kissel to prosecute Donziger after the charges were declined by the Manhattan federal prosecutor’s office. Judge Kaplan also failed to disclose that the Seward firm had represented Chevron one year before the charges were filed, and that the firm maintains extensive financial ties to several large oil companies.

Donziger played a leading role in winning a historic $9.5 billion pollution judgment against Chevron that has been affirmed by 29 appellate judges in Ecuador and Canada, including the Supreme Courts of both countries. Chevron has since used dozens of law firms and roughly 2,000 lawyers to attack Donziger as part of an avowed “demonization” campaign intended to drive him off the case.

Here are statements from Donziger’s lawyers in response to the decision:

Statement of Marty Garbus, legendary civil rights lawyer who has practiced law for more than six decades:

The decision today by the New York federal appellate court is an outrage and has the effect of protecting a corrupt arrangement orchestrated by Chevron to weaponize the law against its biggest critic. It is inconceivable that in the United States of America a man can be jailed in his home for almost two years without trial on a misdemeanor where the maximum sentence possible is six months -- particularly someone like Steven Donziger, who is recognized as a global leader in the fields of human rights and environmental justice and who has the support of 55 Nobel laureates. The decision today is an embarrassment for the United States federal judiciary and shows a complete lack of accountability by our federal courts in policing obvious abuses of power by trial judges who have ties to Chevron and hence flagrant conflicts of interest.

Statement of Ron Kuby, longtime New York civil rights lawyer:

The idea that Steven Donziger would become an international fugitive, living in exile, facing felony charges in order to avoid a six-month sentence for misdemeanors, should have given the Second Circuit more than “pause.” It is ridiculous on its face and the unfortunate that the Second Circuit did not call it for what it is—an unjustified, bad-faith effort to keep a prominent human rights lawyer and activist under house arrest.

Statement of Rick Friedman, Steven Donziger’s longtime counsel:

Steven Donziger is being prosecuted by a lawyer with strong ties to the oil industry, including Chevron. She was appointed after the U.S. Attorney refused to prosecute. The charges were written and filed by a judge who picked the private prosecutor, and continues to preside over the case, but chose a friend to preside over the trial. While this is a criminal case, Steven is being denied a jury. While the maximum sentence is 6 months, Steven has been in home confinement for more than 19 months. To say this is highly irregular would be an understatement.

This case illustrates the wisdom of the founding fathers in having “checks and balances” in our government. Here, the judiciary has ignored the executive branch which is ordinarily in charge of prosecutions. It has eliminated a jury, which historically has been a bulwark against judicial over-reach. It is punishing a defendant before he has been convicted. I join Amnesty International and other human rights in requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice intervene in this very irregular prosecution and either dismiss the case outright given the extraordinary length of time Steven has been imprisoned in his home, or ensure that professional prosecutors carry it forward. If the trial does happen, it is imperative that an unbiased judge and disinterested prosecutor be assigned to the case.