Court Affirms civil contempt against disbarred attorney Steven Donziger
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit today affirmed multiple findings of civil contempt against disbarred attorney Steven Donziger, effectively bringing to a close his campaign to profit from the fraudulent Ecuadorian judgment he procured in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) Act.
As the Second Circuit today observed, it has been finally adjudicated that Donziger “fraudulently procured the Ecuadorian Judgment against Chevron through a pattern of racketeering activity.” The court also noted “Donziger, among other things, bribed the presiding judge to enter a judgment in his clients’ favor in exchange for $500,000 of the judgment’s proceeds; coerced the court to appoint a hand-picked expert whom Donziger paid for favorable testimony; and ghost-wrote the Ecuadorian Judgment.” In 2020, the New York Appellate Division, First Department, disbarred Donziger for “egregious professional misconduct, namely, corruption of a court expert and ghostwriting his report, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and judicial coercion.”
In today’s ruling, the Second Circuit agreed with “the district court’s conclusions that Donziger acted in contempt of the Injunction that resulted from the RICO Judgment in numerous ways,” including Donziger’s failure to transfer his interest in the fraudulent Ecuadorian judgment to Chevron, transferring a portion of his interest in the judgment in exchange for personal services, transferring and dissipating his assets in violation of his obligations as a judgment debtor, and disregarding discovery orders. The court noted that for the most part Donziger did “not even attempt to challenge the district court’s findings of his contumacious conduct.” The court reversed other aspects of the district court’s rulings and remanded the case to the district court for determination of the amount of fees Donziger owes Chevron.
The decision rejects Donziger’s attempts to circumvent the RICO judgment. The Second Circuit ruled that, going forward, Donziger “can no longer sell any interests in the Ecuadorian Judgment for any reason, and use the proceeds for his benefit . . . or profit from such sales in any way whatsoever.” The court also upheld the district court’s award of costs against Donziger, because “costs were sought in a litigation in which Donziger has been found liable for engaging in a pattern of racketeering involving corruption of a foreign judiciary resulting in a multi-billion dollar judgment.”
The decision acknowledged “the district court’s thorough and fully persuasive fact findings and legal conclusions, which [the Second Circuit] ha[s] already affirmed in full, establishing Donziger’s violations of law and ethics that added up to a pattern of racketeering in violation of the RICO statute.”
U.S. courts are not alone in condemning the Ecuadorian litigation against Chevron. In a separate proceeding, an international tribunal in The Hague previously ruled that the Ecuadorian judgment was procured by the plaintiffs’ legal team through egregious fraud and corruption and is therefore unenforceable under international law.
The international tribunal further rejected the environmental allegations against Chevron, holding that the corrupt Ecuadorian judgment was based on environmental claims that had been already settled and released by the Republic of Ecuador years earlier following the successful completion of an environmental remediation carried out under the supervision and with the approval of the Republic of Ecuador.
All efforts to enforce the fraudulent Ecuadorian judgment outside of Ecuador have been rejected. Today’s decision further vindicates Chevron’s position in this long-running dispute.
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