- Disbarred lawyer Steven Donziger to be sentenced Friday
- Donziger, whose multi-billion-dollar lawsuit against Chevron was found tainted by fraud, has been under house arrest in related contempt case
(Reuters) – Disbarred U.S. lawyer Steven Donziger, who faces sentencing Friday for criminal contempt stemming from his decades-long legal battle with Chevron Corp, is asking a Manhattan federal judge to consider a new finding by independent United Nations experts that his home confinement violates international human rights law.
In an opinion first made public on Thursday, a panel of five international jurists concluded that Donziger’s home detention for more than two years in his criminal case violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a landmark pact that guarantees fundamental freedoms, to which the United States is a party.
The human rights experts, appointed by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, said that “the appropriate remedy” would be to “accord (Donziger) an enforceable right to compensation.”
Donziger, who was disbarred in New York last year, was charged in August 2019 with criminal contempt for, among other things, failing to turn over his computer, phones and other electronic devices. Senior U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska has placed him under home detention since August 2019 to address concerns of flight risk. The judge found him guilty in May for “repeatedly and willfully” defying court orders.
His criminal case stems from post-judgment orders in a civil case in which a Manhattan judge in 2014 barred U.S. enforcement of a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron Corp that Donziger had won in an Ecuadorian court. The judge said the Ecuadorian judgment had been secured through bribery, fraud and extortion.
Donziger on Thursday told Reuters he would ask the Department of Justice to implement the U.N. experts’ conclusions.
“There are going to be damages that we are going to seek from the U.S. government for this illegal deprivation of liberty,” he said.
Donziger’s lawyers include Martin Garbus of Offit Kurman.
The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rita Glavin, a private lawyer who was appointed to prosecute the case, did not immediately provide a comment.
The U.N. experts’ opinion says the United States breached international law by putting Donziger under house arrest for about four times the maximum sentence of six months that he faces in his contempt case. His home confinement in New York was prolonged by repeated postponements of his trial due to the coronavirus pandemic and issues with his legal representation.
Despite the civil fraud findings against him, Donziger has maintained support among some environmental and rights groups. Amnesty International petitioned the independent U.N. experts earlier this year to seek Thursday’s opinion, which the judge hearing Donziger’s case is not bound to consider.
Donziger has requested a sentence of time served ahead of Friday’s sentencing.
The case is United States v. Donziger, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 1:19-cr-00561.
For United States: Rita Glavin of Glavin PLLC; and Brian Maloney of Seward & Kissel
For Donziger: Martin Garbus of Offit Kurman; and Ronald Kuby