Steven Donziger will appear over zoom from house arrest to speak with the Environmental Law Society and answer student questions.
Steven Donziger is a human rights and environmental lawyer who represented 30,000 indigenous Ecuadorians and farmers in a class action lawsuit against Chevron-Texaco. Chevron-Texaco was brought to court for creating what has been called the ‘Amazonian Chernobyl’: one of the world’s worst environmental disasters, in which 80 times more oil was spilled than in BP?s 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, and thousands of excess cancer deaths have been reported. After an 18-year legal battle, Donziger and his team won $9.5bn in damages in an Ecuadorian court, but Chevron-Texaco pulled all their assets out of the country to avoid paying.
While still fighting to achieve justice for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, Donziger has been the target of an extraordinary campaign of retaliation by Chevron-Texaco, which has put together a legal team of hundreds of lawyers from 60 firms with the stated goal of “demonizing” him. After Chevron filed a civil RICO charge against Donziger, he was found in criminal contempt at trial for refusing to hand over his phone and laptop, claiming that this would violate attorney-client privilege. In a virtually unprecedented move, after the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to prosecute Donziger, the judge appointed a private law firm, which has previously represented Chevron, to prosecute him.
After being found in contempt of court, Donziger has been under house arrest for over 900 days, the longest sentence ever recorded for a misdemeanor charge. This included two years and two months of detention before he was given a trial, which the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called illegal under international law. Donziger’s detention has also been condemned by Amnesty International, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the United Nations, The European Parliament, and has been described by twenty-nine Nobel laureates as “judicial harassment.” Human rights campaigners have called Chevron’s actions as an example of a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP), used to deter and intimidate activists. Others, such as Notre Dame law professor Doug Cassel, and the Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal, have argued that Chevron’s allegations against Donziger for actions he took in Ecuador are legitimate, and troubling.