Steven Donzinger

Steven Donzinger is an American human rights lawyer who spent six months imprisoned after a politically-motivated prosecution after he represented indigenous Ecuadorians whose land was environmentally trashed by US petrol giant Texaco (later Chevron).

The sequence of events goes:

  • 1972–1992: Texaco dumps 16 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Lago Agrio region of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador.
  • Donzinger acts as the lawyer for indigenous group the Amazon Defence Coalition, successfully winning a judgement for $9.5 billion in damages to be paid to the plaintiffs.
  • Texaco is acquired by Chevron, which refuses to pay the judgement.
  • 2011: Chevron sues Donzinger in retaliation, accusing him of having been bribed by the Ecuadorian government to represent the Amazon Defence Coalition. They also accused him of “fraud” for supposedly embellishing evidence of the extent of Texaco’s environmental destruction.
  • 2014: Chevron files “racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations” (RICO) suit against Donzinger, which is usually used against organised crime syndicates. The federal court judge hearing the case, Louis A. Kaplan, has extensive investments in Chevron and is completely biased. He finds Donzinger guilty.
  • New York district attorneys refuse to prosecute Donzinger. Kaplan invokes this obscure Rule 42, which allows a federal cour judge to appoint a private law firm to wage a prosecution against someone public prosecutors have refused to prosecute. Kaplan appoints Chevron’s regular law firm, Seward & Kissel, to conduct criminal procedings against Donzinger. He then also “skipped” the regular process by which a random judge is appointed to oversee a case, and appointed a specific judge: Loretta Preska, who also has extensive ties to Chevron.
  • August 2019: Preska confiscates Donzinger’s passport and sentences him to house arrest for the duration of the trial.
  • October 2021: Preska finds Donzinger guilty of all charges and sentences him to the maximum sentence, six months in jail.
  • April 2022: Donzinger is released.

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