Stephen Donziger’s Case is an Embarrassment to the US Justice System (Video)

For the first time in United States history, someone sentenced to prison was prosecuted not by the US Justice Dept. (DOJ) but by an attorney working for a private corporation.

In the 1990s, human rights lawyer Steven Donziger fought and won a case against fossil fuel giant Chevron for poisoning Indigenous Ecuadorians in the Amazon.

But instead of paying for the cleanup as had been ordered, Chevron flexed its corporate muscle and slapped Donziger with a suit for which Judge Lewis A. Kaplan found him guilty of “bribery and fraud” in a jury-less trial.

No coincidence, Kaplan is a former corporate lawyer who held financial investments in Chevron at the time he sentenced Donziger.

Citing violations to attorney-client privilege, Donziger refused to relinquish his computer, phone, and other personal devices (including passwords) to the court and Chevron.

Kaplan then charged him with six counts of criminal contempt, ignored local rules, and selected to oversee the ensuing case the private prosecutors and District Judge Loretta Preska, who has served on the advisory board of the Federalist Society, a group to which Chevron has donated significant money.

Donziger has already spent the past 786 days under house arrest with an ankle bracelet.

The six-month sentence for contempt handed down October 1 came a day after he requested the court to consider independent United Nations experts’ opinion that court-ordered home confinement violated international human rights law.

Handing down the maximum sentence for a Class-B misdemeanor, Judge Preska stated she was giving him “the proverbial 2 X 4 between the eyes.”

President of the Inner Circle of Advocates, Attorney Richard Friedman, explained:

“What Chevron and its law firms are doing to Steven is the most grotesque thing I have observed in the American legal system in 40 years of practice. Attacking the other side’s lawyers is what defendants do if they have no defense on the merits. Chevron has made no secret of the fact that its only hope is, in their words, to ‘demonize Donziger.’ I have never met anyone more courageous or resilient than Steven Donziger.”

In a social media video posted after his Friday sentence, Donziger said:

“It’s very clear Judge Preska wants me to serve my six-month sentence immediately, so that even if I get exonerated on appeal, I still will have served a sentence for a crime I never committed. And again, another example, I think, of the punitive nature of what’s happening. It’s almost unheard of for someone convicted of a misdemeanor in the United States not to be let out pending his or her appeal.”

While the UN orders his immediate release, Stephen Donziger has been returned to house arrest pending appeal.

For more information, and to sign a petition demanding Donziger be immediately released from pre-trial detention, visit


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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.