New York, NY – The heroic saga of noted human rights attorney Steven Donziger is playing out on October 1, 2021 in U. S. District Court for the Southern District of New York at 500 Pearl Street in Manhattan. It is of paramount importance, and in the interest of NYC’s’s labor unions, to join the 8:30 am protest with as many as possible entering the courthouse at 10 am to witness kangaroo court proceedings staged by federal district Judges Lewis Kaplan and Loretta Preska. If Kaplan, Preska, Chevron and their politically connected, high-priced law firms are allowed to get away with this travesty of justice, every labor leader, civil rights leader and public interest attorney will be in jeopardy whenever they dare to challenge the abuse of corporate and political power.
New York City and New York State Employees’ Retirement Systems own hundreds of millions of dollars of Chevron stocks and bonds. With such stock ownership comes the responsibility for public sector unions to challenge Chevron and its hand-picked judges’ unconscionable manipulation of our federal courts.
In 1993, Donziger sued Texaco, later acquired by Chevron, to force the company to clean up its hundreds of deadly toxic waste pits poisoning land, air, water and 30,000 indigenous people who inhabit the Lago Agrio rainforest area, 60% of whom are mired in poverty. Ironically, Chevron got the trial transferred from U.S. federal court to Ecuador.
New York City and New York State Employees’ Retirement Systems own hundreds of millions of dollars of Chevron stocks and bonds. With such stock ownership comes the responsibility for public sector unions to challenge Chevron and its hand-picked judges unconscionable manipulation of our federal courts.
Ecuador’s highest court upheld the judgement in 2018. Chevron’s position then became that hell will freeze over before they would clean up their mess which has led to thousands of cancer victims, miscarriages and deaths. Mother Jones magazine reported, “According to internal company memos, Chevron launched a retaliatory campaign to attack the victims, discredit Ecuador’s courts, and ‘demonize’ Donziger…Prominent trial lawyer John Keker, representing Donziger, claimed the Kaplan trial was pure intimidation and called the proceedings a ‘Dickensian farce’ driven by Kaplan’s ‘implacable hostility’ toward Donziger.”
Chevron, with its $240 billion in assets, is headed by CEO Michael Wirth. His 2020 compensation was more than $29 million and his Chevron stockholdings are valued at about $125 million. Most members of Chevron’s board of directors, for their side job, were lavishly paid between $375,000 to $406,000 in 2020.
Chevron hired politically connected henchman Randy Mastro, partner in Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to wage a ruthless assault against Donziger and the Ecuadorian people. Mastro, former deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani, clashed with City Council members Brad Lander and now public advocate Juumane Williams over the law firm’s union-busting efforts, on behalf of Cablevision, against the Communication Workers of America.
England’s High Court of Justice has censured Gibson Dunn for fabricating evidence while judges in California, Montana, and New York have censured and fined Gibson Dunn for misconduct including witness tampering, obstruction, intimidation, and what one judge called “legal thuggery.”
Chevron filed a RICO suit handled by Judge Kaplan whose serious conflicts of interest include hidden investments in Chevron and being a prominent member of the Chevron sponsored Federalist Society. Kaplan ruled against Donziger in 2014. After he appealed, Judge Kaplan ruled that Donziger owes Chevron millions of dollars in fees, costs and penalties and ordered Donziger to turn over his cellphone and computer for inspection. Knowing Judge Kaplan was on a witch-hunt, Donziger rightfully refused because doing so would reveal years of attorney-client privileged communications. Kaplan then charged Donziger with criminal contempt, but the U. S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York declined to prosecute. Kaplan then appointed a special prosecutor from the Seward and Kissel law firm at great expense to taxpayers. Only months later did Seward & Kissel disclose that Chevron has been one of their clients.
Kaplan then transferred the criminal contempt matter to Chevron-friendly Judge Loretta Preska, Federalist Society member and speaker. Like dictatorial Kaplan in the civil fraud case, Preska also is not allowing Donziger a jury trial, even though he faces possible prison time. Apparently believing federal judges can’t be held accountable over their misconduct, Preska boasted in her persecution of Donziger, “It’s time to pay the piper.”
Donziger has been confined to house arrest in Manhattan for more than two years! His lawyers have noted that, to their knowledge, no other misdemeanor defendant without a criminal record has ever been confined pretrial to home confinement, let alone for two years. “So, I’m being prosecuted by a Chevron law firm that has locked me up, deprived me of my liberty,” Donziger says. “Corporate prosecutions are not legal in the U.S.”
Because Judges Kaplan and Preska continue their vendetta against Donziger, they make a mockery of our judicial system and thousands of Ecuadorians continue to suffer horribly while criminal Chevron rakes in billions of dollars. Judges expect the title “Honorable” to be placed before their names. “Crooked” would be a more appropriate title for Kaplan and Preska. In Contrast, Steven Donziger is the very definition of a hero.
Sixty-eight Nobel laureates recently demanded the DOJ dismiss Chevron’s contempt prosecution and release Donziger from home detention.
The rule of law is suppose to mean that no one in America, including federal judges, are above the law. But Kaplan and Preska, the tag team perpetrating oil giant Chevron’s judicial dirty work, think they are above the law. Both should immediately be removed from the bench to end further damage to a founding principle of our judicial system. Trade unionists have a vital role to play in this pivotal moment in history.
Ray Rogers is a longtime labor organizer and director of Corporate Campaign. Business Week described him as a “legendary union activist”, while the Boston Herald described him as “labor’s most innovative strategist” and “one of the most successful union organizers since the CIO sit-down strikes of the 1930s.” Ray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.