On Working day 608 of his property arrest, Steven Donziger was pacing in his kitchen area. Spring was springing outside the window of his Higher West Side apartment, wherever the temperature experienced just shot up into the 60s. Nearby, Central Park was filling with picnickers and people tossing Frisbees. But Donziger, the attorney who received an $8.6 billion judgement in opposition to Chevron above toxic oil squander in Ecuador, wouldn’t be signing up for them. Despite the fact that the legal contempt cost for which he will soon face demo — which stems from his refusal to hand his laptop or computer and cellphone more than to the court docket in 2019 — is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of 6 months and Donziger has currently used virtually 20 months confined, he however are not able to depart his condominium.
“I’m a prisoner in my very own property,” he stated, as he toasted himself a pumpernickel bagel for lunch. “There has by no means been a attorney without a felony record in the federal program who has been detained for even a working day pretrial for a misdemeanor.” Donziger mentioned that his remaining ankle, on which an electronic keep an eye on has been strapped because August 2019, is chafed, and that his loved ones customers, together with his 14-calendar year-outdated son, have experienced immeasurably from the ordeal. “I remember the quite very first working day he arrived property and I experienced to inform him,” he explained. “And I recall saying this is only going to be a pair of months until I can form this out.”
Donziger was not becoming naive to imagine his household arrest would not past. No other attorney had been subjected to this cure just before. And the Southern District of New York experienced by now declined to prosecute the contempt case from him. The selection of the judge, a former corporate lawyer whom a lot of of Donziger’s supporters have accused of currently being biased in favor of Chevron, to appoint a private company to prosecute the case already seemed terribly harsh and punitive. Still nearly two yrs later, the gadget remains affixed to his human body and foremost in his mind. “It form of permeates my existence, sleeping, having bathing,” he claimed. “It’s created to psychologically demoralize.”
As this most recent installment in the bitter struggle involving Donziger and Chevron drags on, it can appear that the oil large has succeeded in its lengthy-time period goal of demonizing the human rights lawyer, which the corporation and its allies laid out in 2009. The 2011 judgment of the Ecuadorian court docket over air pollution of the Lago Agrio location of region may well have ultimately place an conclude to what was by now an epic authorized battle. But Chevron refused to shell out the judgment or clear up the harmful mess in Ecuador — and alternatively taken off its belongings from the region.
Chevron, which is valued at additional than $200 billion, also invested some of its huge methods in a lawful counteroffensive towards Donziger. Led by the regulation business Gibson Dunn, the company’s scorching pursuit of the legal professional has included hiring non-public investigators to observe him, building a publication to smear him, and creating a workforce of hundreds of attorneys to battle him. As a consequence, Donziger, who spent decades battling for Indigenous communities and farmers grappling with the pollution ensuing from oil extraction, now faces exorbitant fines and lawful costs. He has also dropped his passport, his earnings, his legislation license (nevertheless he’s fighting the selection), and his liberty. And, based on what takes place at a trial scheduled for Might 10, he may possibly confront up to 6 months in prison.
Nonetheless the marketing campaign versus Donziger is so brutal and uncommon it may finally backfire on equally the oil large and the regulation firms that stand for it. The pointed attacks on an personal who was preventing against environmental injustice have drawn the consideration of attorneys, scholars, human rights companies, and local weather activists, who are discovering not only Chevron’s penchant for revenge but also its background of refusing to acquire duty for the environmental devastation wrought during oil extraction. The irony is not missing on Donziger.
“Because of their habits, the assistance I’ve gotten around the entire world has expanded explosively,” he explained. “Millions of individuals are now discovering about this circumstance and Chevron’s abuse of the Ecuadorians who or else would not have acknowledged about it.”
Tim Hirschel-Burns, a next-calendar year pupil at Yale Law University, is one particular of them. Hirschel-Burns, a member of Legislation Students for Weather Accountability, located out about Donziger’s home arrest in an short article that ran in The Intercept in January 2020. “I keep in mind looking through that and considering this cannot be genuine,” he said. But his analysis into the circumstance confirmed that Chevron and Gibson Dunn experienced individually focused the law firm right after Donziger’s workforce gained in Ecuadorian court docket. “I uncovered it wild that Chevron could withdraw its belongings from Ecuador and not pay out just about anything.”
Now he and some others in the team are launching a marketing campaign to get legislation college students about the region to renounce Gibson Dunn for its representation of Chevron in Ecuador and in the litigation versus Donziger, as nicely as for its greater job in the local climate crisis. “Gibson Dunn does fossil gasoline function on a ton of very objectionable assignments,” explained Hirschel-Burns, who pointed to the regulation firm’s get the job done on 18 lawful cases in which they characterize climate polluters or clientele who normally exacerbate weather improve, such as Dakota Access LLC, the business at the rear of the Dakota Accessibility pipeline. Based mostly on that litigation and the firm’s lobbying on behalf of Koch Industries, the student team gave Gibson Dunn an “F” on its climate alter scorecard it issued in March.
Today, Regulation College students for Local climate Accountability despatched Gibson Dunn a letter inquiring it to dedicate to a publicly offered moral typical for its fossil gasoline do the job. “They have to have to tell us what they would not do for revenue,” claimed Hirschel-Burns. “What is the line they would not cross?”
The regulation learners are also calling out Gibson Dunn’s strategy of shifting its firepower from the environmental circumstance to the unique lawyer presenting it — a tactic that has the power to chill their have ability to represent corporate polluters in the long term. “Gibson Dunn’s approach states we’re heading to ruthlessly and frivolously defeat down any community or lawyer representing a company that has the gall to consider on our consumers,” explained Aaron Regunberg, an additional member of Law Students for Local climate Accountability. “This indicates that, as attorneys, we can be opening ourselves up to attack.”
Regunberg, who is in his second year at Harvard Regulation University, mentioned that the business does not spotlight this portion of its do the job when hoping to seek the services of youthful candidates. “When Gibson Dunn does a recruitment event, on their PowerPoint, they are not conversing about, ‘Oh, we masterminded this strategy of likely right after our opponent’s counsel,’” he explained. “They speak about the little slice of the pro bono stuff they do. They make it sound like a prestigious issue that is in line with what ever your worldview is.”
Regunberg hopes that bringing the firm’s objectionable behavior into the light will taint Gibson Dunn to the point exactly where lawyers will be ashamed to operate there — a stigma he likens to one that gradually grew to become connected to regulation corporations that operate with tobacco businesses. “There was a method of that social license currently being eliminated,” reported Regunberg. “It turned fewer and less OK to say, ‘I’m a prestigious law firm, a excellent person, and symbolizing Major Tobacco.”
The group’s campaign, which launches now with the hashtag #DoneWithDunn, follows its past targeting of Paul, Weiss Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, which signifies Exxon Mobil and other fossil fuel businesses. It also arrives on the heels of a modern regulation student boycott of a further agency tied up in the Donziger litigation, Seward & Kissel. Regardless of having multiple ties to Chevron, that business is now prosecuting Donziger for his contempt cost. In a productive bid to lengthen his detention, the organization labeled him a flight hazard.
In a February letter despatched to partners in the agency, hundreds of regulation college students took concern with the business. “The unethical behavior of Seward & Kissel’s Chevron-connected prosecutors opens the doorway to potential conditions in which judges give non-public legislation companies the authority to prosecute the critics of multinational organizations,” the college students wrote, likely on to pledge that they wouldn’t contemplate functioning for the business “until it withdraws from its conflicted place as Chevron’s private prosecutor.”
Seward & Kissel and Gibson Dunn did not react to requests for comment. In an e mail, a spokesperson for Chevron, James Craig, denied that the corporation has something to do with Donziger’s prosecution. “Chevron is not a celebration to the legal scenario, did not initiate the felony costs, and played no purpose in the court’s conclusion to demand Donziger with legal contempt of court docket. The prison rates were being introduced by a federal District Court,” Craig wrote in the email, and reported that “advocates for human legal rights do not progress human legal rights by violating them.” Craig also denied that Chevron withdrew its property from Ecuador. “They have been taken more than by Petroecuador, which has operated the fields for practically 30 decades with an abysmal environmental report.”
Meanwhile, the relevance of Donziger’s story to the greater local climate disaster has been expounded upon in a growing number of news outlets. Local weather activist Greta Thunberg tweeted about Donziger’s plight. And 55 Nobel laureates have demanded that he be unveiled from household detention and have the expenses in opposition to him dropped.
Some of his various supporters have just lately achieved out to Merrick Garland, the new U.S. lawyer general, to request that the Office of Justice evaluation Chevron’s attacks on Donziger. “These assaults … have led to a point out of affairs extensively seen by the international human rights and environmental group as just one of the most significant ongoing human legal rights abuses for which the United States has however to solution,” Bob Goodfeld, the interim government director of Amnesty Global Usa, and other human rights leaders wrote to Garland in February.
In spite of the escalating guidance, Donziger said he fears that he will be convicted and jailed right after his Might demo, which will be held with out a jury. “That’s the Chevron plan. They’re going to falsely imprison me,” he said, as he was winding down yet a different working day within his condominium. “It will be negative for me. And it could just make issues even worse for them.”