Lawyer who won $9.5 billion pollution case against Chevron gets six-month sentence

Attorney Steven Donziger, who faced sentencing Friday for criminal contempt stemming from his decades-long legal battle with Chevron Corp, embraces his son Matthew after his hearing outside Manhattan Federal Courthouse in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., October 1, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A Harvard-trained lawyer, Steven Donziger, who spent decades battling Chevron Corp over pollution in the Ecuadorian rainforest was sentenced Friday to six months’ imprisonment for criminal contempt charges arising from a lawsuit brought by the oil company.

Donziger won a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron in an Ecuadorian court in 2011.

However, three years later, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan refused to enforce the $9.5 billion judgement, saying it had been secured through bribery, fraud and extortion.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska sentenced Steven Donziger after finding him guilty in May of “willfully” defying court orders, including failing to turn over his computer and other electronic devices.

Donziger’s lawyer, Martin Garbus, called the sentence “outrageous.”

Chevron and private lawyers serving as prosecutors for the United States did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Donziger plans to appeal.

He will remain under home confinement, where he has been for two years if he appeals quickly.

His sentencing is the latest twist in a legal saga stemming from his representation of villagers in Ecuador’s Lago Agrio region who sought to hold Chevron liable for water and soil contamination by Texaco between 1964 and 1992.

Chevron acquired Texaco in 2000.

San Ramon, California-based Chevron sued him in Manhattan Federal court later that year, claiming that he and his associates pressured the presiding Judge in Ecuador.

Chevron later sought to recoup money Donziger personally reaped in the Ecuadorian case, and Kaplan ordered Donziger to turn over electronic devices to the company’s forensic experts.

When he refused, Kaplan charged him with criminal contempt.

He was disbarred by a New York appeals court last year.

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