Lawyer who took on Chevron in Ecuador is disbarred in New York


By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK – Steven Donziger, the American lawyer who spent more than two decades suing Chevron Corp over pollution in the Ecuadorian rain forest, has been disbarred in New York by a state appeals court.

Nine years ago, Donziger had won a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron in an Ecuador court, but was unable to enforce it after a U.S. judge found it had been obtained through fraud.

In a decision published Thursday, the appeals court faulted Donziger’s “egregious” misconduct, which it said included ghostwriting a court expert’s report, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and judicial coercion and bribery “which he steadfastly refuses to acknowledge and shows no remorse for.”

Martin Garbus, a lawyer for Donziger, said in a statement on Donziger’s Twitter feed that his client will appeal.

“This is a horrendous decision” that deprives Ecuadorians harmed by Chevron of their main advocate, Garbus said. “He is being singled out because he so threatens Chevron and the fossil fuel industry.”

Chevron declined to comment. Donziger did not immediately respond on Friday to requests for comment. The decision prevents him from practicing law in New York.

Donziger, a Harvard Law School graduate, represented villagers in Ecuador’s Lago Agrio region who sought to hold Chevron liable for water and soil contamination from 1964 to 1992 by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001.

While not disputing that pollution occurred, San Ramon, California-based Chevron contended that Texaco cleaned up the area, and state-owned Petroecuador was mainly responsible for the contamination.

In 2014, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan said Donziger and his legal team used bribery, coercion and fraud to obtain the judgment against Chevron, including a $500,000 bribe to the presiding judge. He barred them from “profiting in any way from the egregious fraud that occurred.”

Several countries have rejected efforts by Donziger or Ecuador to enforce the judgment. In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider the case.

The legal battle was also the subject of a 2009 documentary, “Crude.”

Donziger had been suspended from law practice in July 2018, but a judicial referee in February recommended his reinstatement.

In rejecting Donziger’s request to affirm that recommendation, the appeals court said the referee had been “too dismissive” of the severity of Donziger’s misconduct.

Donziger faces a scheduled Sept. 9 trial in Manhattan federal court for criminal contempt.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Rosalba O’Brien)

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