Steven Donziger proved oil company Chevron dumped billions of tons of toxic waste. But he's the one going to jail.

I shared an article here back in April about the trials and tribulations of Steven Donziger, a lawyer who tried to help a group of Indigenous people and rural farmers in Ecuador get some climate justice from Texaco-Chevron, after they dumped 16 billion gallons of toxic waste and created what would become known as the "Amazon Chernobyl." Donziger ultimately won a nearly $10 billion settlement against the oil giant … who, as you might expect, did not take the loss lightly. Instead, they appealed to overturn the case by accusing Donziger of winning the case through forgery and bribery, and attacked him heavily in the courts. As The Intercept summed up in 2020:

Chevron has hired private investigators to track Donziger, created a publication to smear him, and put together a legal team of hundreds of lawyers from 60 firms, who have successfully pursued an extraordinary campaign against him. As a result, Donziger has been disbarred and his bank accounts have been frozen. He now has a lien on his apartment, faces exorbitant fines, and has been prohibited from earning money. As of August, a court has seized his passportand put him on house arrest. Chevron, which has a market capitalization of $228 billion, has the funds to continue targeting Donziger for as long as it chooses.

Donziger ended up being held in contempt of court for refusing to turn over his personal laptop and cell phone in this appeal case, and was put on house arrest for nearly 2 years while the gross situation worked through the legal system. To clarify: he was initially charged with a misdemeanor.

But now, Bloomberg reports, the case has been resolved … and Donziger is formally being sent to jail for six months while the case against Texaco-Chevron is overturned. From the article:

But U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska, who found Donziger guilty of six counts of criminal contempt after a trial in July, wasn't swayed. She detailed what she characterized as Donziger's prolonged, repeated refusal to obey court orders, musing that "it seems only the proverbial two-by-four between the eyes" would get him to properly respect the law.

"Mr. Donziger has spent the last seven years thumbing his nose at the U.S. judicial system," Preska said at his sentencing hearing in federal court in Manhattan. "Now it's time to pay the piper." 


The orders Donziger was found guilty of disobeying came in a racketeering suit filed against him by Chevron. In that case, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan found that the massive 2011 judgment Donziger won in an Ecuadorian court had been achieved through fraud and bribery. Kaplan blocked attempts to collect the award, and his ruling also led to Donziger's disbarment last year.

Kaplan further directed that Donziger be prosecuted for failing to comply with orders that he turn over evidence and assign his right to attorney's fees to Chevron, among other things.

I'm trying not to editorialize too much here — but god damn, this is utterly despicable. Texaco killed people with their Imperialist oil schemes, and avoided persecution first through government bribery in Ecuador, and then by getting bought out by Chevron (so that there was technically no more Texaco company to sue). Donziger was relentless in his pursuit of international justice, and now a few corporate-friendly judges have punished him for it.

TikTok Hero and Chevron Foe Donziger Gets Six Months in Jail [Bob Van Voris / Bloomberg]

How the environmental lawyer who won a massive judgement against Chevron lost everything [Natalie Lerner / The Intercept]

'I've Been Targeted With Probably the Most Vicious Corporate Counterattack in American History' [Jack Holmes / Esquire]

Drilled, Season 5, Episode 1: Lockdown [Amy Westervelt]

Oil Industry Links In Donziger Contempt Trial [Karen Savage / Drilled News]