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(Reuters) – American lawyer Steven Donziger has told a Manhattan federal judge that she should release him from his nearly two years of home confinement in his criminal case arising from his battles against Chevron Corp over pollution in the Ecuadorian rainforest.
In a letter filed on Monday in response to Senior U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska’s request for a clarification on how the lawyer’s release conditions might have changed, Donziger who is charged with criminal contempt challenged the judge’s conclusion that he presents a flight risk, arguing that he would not abandon his New York City-based family to become a “fugitive” over the misdemeanor charges.
Rita Glavin, a private lawyer working for the prosecution alongside Brian Maloney of Seward & Kissel, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Donziger’s lawyer Martin Garbus of Offit Kurman told Reuters: “He can’t go anywhere. She should let him out. 700 days is enough.”
Garbus in his filing argued that his client meets none of the factors for detention that must be considered under the U.S. Code, including the violent nature of an offense and the person’s history.
Preska, in a past order, has said that Donziger was a flight risk for reasons that include his “significant” ties to Ecuador and frequent travels there.
Robert Percival, a University of Maryland law professor, said “This certainly is kind of turning into such a farce that makes Chevron look bad that they’ve gone to such great lengths to demonize him.”
Michael Krauss, an emeritus professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School of George Mason University, said that Donziger’s confinement was “unprecedented.” But he added that a strategy of delays on the part of his attorneys was “in part responsible for that.”
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March denied the lawyer’s bid to loosen his pretrial release conditions, including his home confinement.
Monday’s filing came in response to Preska seeking additional information on “which of the (U.S. Code release or detention) factors have changed since the Court’s previous bail rulings, which have been twice affirmed by the Court of Appeals.”
Donziger last week moved to be released. He was tried in May in Manhattan federal court and is awaiting orders on his subsequent motion to dismiss the charges against him.
His criminal case springs from post-judgment orders in a civil case in which another Manhattan judge in 2014 barred enforcement in the United States of a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron which Donziger had won in an Ecuadorian court. The judge found the ruling had been obtained through fraud.
Donziger was charged in August 2019 with six counts of criminal contempt for, among other things, failing to turn over his computer, phones and other electronic devices.
That same month, Preska ordered that he be detained at home, finding a risk that he may flee the country to avoid his prosecution.
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 and Brian Maloney of Seward & Kissel.
For Donziger: Martin Garbus of Offit Kurman and Ronald Kuby of the Law Office of Ronald L. Kuby