Steven Donziger has taken a sad and giant fall from grace in the wake of his fraudulent scheme to extort billions of dollars from Chevron Oil Company, and for alleged pollution done in a Ecuador, where the U.S. Oil giant never had full, operational, production facilties. After being stripped of his law license in New York State, he now can’t practice law in Washington D.C., either.
This is why.
To make a long, and many-times-told-story, short, Mr. Donziger masterminded a legal approach that involved harrassing and bribbing judges in Ecuador, falsifying reports, and even ghost-writing court judgements, all to the objective of obtaining what was a $19 billion decision against Chevron.
The argument Donziger made was that Texaco, which Chevron bought in 2005, never completed it’s environmental cleanup obligations – claims Texaco has vigorously denied. Indeed, Texaco finished it’s envronmental work in 1998 via contract; meanwhile Ecuador’s Petroecuador State-Run Oil Company took over Texaco’s oil production that it once shared in a consortium called TexPet from 1967 to 1992. But Texaco was all but out of TexPet by 1989, and Petroecuador was in control of it.
While Petroecuador has operated and presided over large oil spills, Ecuador under Rafael Correa rotunely blamed Chevron in the press as recently as 2011 – even though Chevron had nothing to do with it, and Texaco was some years removed from responsibility! But all of this started to unravel during the case Chevron brought against Donziger in 2014.
Then, in 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan for The Southern District of New York in Manhattan said Donziger and his legal team used bribery, coercion and fraud to obtain the $19 billion judgment against Chevron, and barred them from “profiting in any way from the egregious fraud that occurred.” Donziger used his considerable millions in investment in his case against Chevron to chase the oil company around the World, desparately searching for a country that would back the illegally gotten $19 billion judgment against Chevron in Ecucador. Donziger came up short in that effort.
Now, he’s coming up short in documents that allow him to take on law cases.
In New York, a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division, First Department in Manhattan granted an order sought by the department’s attorney grievance committee finding Steven Donziger guilty of professional misconduct, and based on Kaplan’s findings in the 2014 Racateer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act lawsuit.
“Because Judge Kaplan’s findings constitute uncontroverted evidence of serious professional misconduct which immediately threatens the public interest, respondent should be immediately suspended,” the appeals court said in July.
Now, on Sept. 14, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals suspended attorney Steven R. Donziger from practicing law in Washington, D.C., effective immediately. Since he was only licensed in New York and Washington D.C., his law career has effectively been brought to an end.
Some environmental justice publications have claimed that the decision to strip Donziger of the right to practice law was againast due process, and Steven’s outcome has been compared to activists who were murdered in other countries.
That take escapes a number of truths: foremost among them is that Steven already had his chance to prove he didn’t run a legal attack based on lies and deception, and he failed to do that. Second, Steven’s hunt was more for money than power, and he even said he espected to be a billionaire from his legal work.
Also, Donziger skillfully secured millions from litigation finance companies like Burford Capital. There’s no evidence that Donziger used all of the money, or paid any of it back. Steven may very well have walked away a millonaire from the effort, even if he’s not a billionaire.
Steven Donziger will be OK. Don’t feel sorry for him.
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