Donziger’s statement at his sentencing

Steven Donziger addresses supporters about his trial — not by government prosecutors but by Chevron private prosecutors — at which a judge gave him an unprecedented six months in jail. The matter is being appealed.

Donziger’s sentencing statement

Your Honor, I stand before you today for sentencing after a misdemeanor trial for contempt where I was denied a jury and after I have been attacked and demonized for years by Chevron in retaliation for helping Indigenous peoples in Ecuador try to do something to save their cultures, their lives, and our planet in the face of massive oil pollution. That’s the context for why we are here today. That matters because it helps the court understand who I am, my character, and
my motivations.

Here are my points and I will be brief.

First, I want to address the issue of personal responsibility. To be clear, I accept full responsibility for all of my actions that have led to this moment. It is my position that ultimately the appellate courts of the United States will decide whether what I did was entirely ethical and appropriate, as I maintain, or was some sort of crime, as the court maintains. What is indisputable is that some of the counts stem from civil discovery disputes where I chose to go into voluntary civil contempt to get a direct appeal of orders that would have destroyed the privileges of my clients, the Indigenous peoples and other Amazon communities of Ecuador; no lawyer in this country ever has been charged with criminal contempt for engaging in such a course of action — that is, seeking judicial review of a civil discovery order.

This course of action has been adjudged to be appropriate and ethical by literally every federal Circuit court in this country. I am the first lawyer charged criminally for engaging in this course of action. I don’t understand how I could be charged criminally for seeking judicial review of a civil discovery order, except as some form of retaliation for my successful advocacy against Chevron – a supposition confirmed not just by the rejection of these charges by the regular federal prosecutor in Manhattan but more recently by the five esteemed international jurists from the United Nations who ruled my detention and this entire case is not in conformity with international law, and in fact violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other legal instruments designed to protect people from arbitrary detention and judicial bias.

Further, as my team understands it, I am also the first lawyer in the country ever to be charged criminally based on civil orders that I already had complied with.

So let me be clear: I maintain I am innocent of these criminal charges; I maintain I always acted in respect for the rule of law; I maintain that Judge Kaplan’s orders that are the basis for the charges in this case are not in adherence to the rule of law, and have for all practical purposes been found as such by the federal prosecutor, who rejected this case; and I look forward to my appeal where this dispute will be resolved. That is why I cannot express remorse for actions that I maintain are ethical and legal. I hope you do not hold that against me. As far as the issue of my computer is concerned, that will be worked out on the civil side of the case; I am more than willing to turn over my electronic devices once a protocol is worked out that protects privileges and is consistent with the Second Circuit appellate decision that ruled in my favor earlier this year.

Second, a little about who am I. Dozens of people — including several lawyers, law students, academics, civil society leaders, Nobel laureates, and friends — have written the court attesting to my character, my integrity, and my professionalism. I hope the court has read all of these letters and from them seen a picture of who I really am based on those who really know me. It is a major factor that the court must consider. What is notable about these letters more than anything is that they paint an entirely different picture of me than the one that Judge Kaplan, Ms. Glavin and her colleagues, and the armada of Chevron lawyers including those who were witnesses in this very case have been trying to put forth for the last ten years. One thing is clear: I have led a life of good works, motivated by a desire to better our world, to right wrongs, and to address the abuses of power by Chevron and the fossil fuel industry and beyond. And to be clear, despite its immense challenges and the unpleasantness for me and my family of the current situation, I have thoroughly enjoyed my work and feel blessed to have had so much success in carrying out my chosen purpose.

Third, my family. My wife and only child are here today. Laura Miller and Matthew Donziger. My only sibling, Susan Sherman. My parents are deceased. My wife and son don’t like the public eye. My son just started his third straight year of school – his first year of high school – with his father wearing a large ankle bracelet and unable to travel, leave his home except under narrow exceptions with court permission 48 hours in advance, unable to even go out for dinner,
unable to have a father capable of doing all the things a father can do and should do with a child, including act with spontaneity. Like wake up and say, “It’s beautiful out, let’s go drive over to Jersey and watch the Giants.” Or let’s walk across the street and get some ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s. Or let’s go for a run. Oh wait, I have an ankle bracelet and it’s really hard to run with that on, chafing my ankle, and I don’t have permission anyway, so forget about it. If I could tell you the times that has happened — the look of disappointment each time on the face of a child — I promise they overwhelm by many multiples the times I have left my apartment under court supervision. So I ask, if nothing else, that you give maximum value to my relationship to my son as you decide how to dispose of me today, as he has suffered quietly for a good 15% of his life as a collateral consequence of my house arrest.

Fourth, me. I’ve been punished quite severely already for this Class B misdemeanor where no lawyer without a prior record has spent even a day in jail. I have no criminal record. Been in my house 787 days, 720 them pre-trial or pre-conviction. No lawyer in NY for my level of offense ever has served more than 90 days and that was in home confinement; I have now been in home confinement 8 times that period of time. I have been disbarred without a hearing where I have been unable to present factual evidence; thus, I am unable to earn an income in my profession. I have no passport. I can’t travel; can’t do human rights work the normal way which I believe I am reasonably good at; can’t see my clients in Ecuador; can’t visit the affected communities to hear the latest news of cancer deaths or struggles to maintain life in face of constant exposure to oil pollution. In addition, and this is little known, Judge Kaplan has imposed millions and millions of dollars of fines and courts costs on me. He has ordered me to pay millions to Chevron to cover their legal fees in attacking me, and then he let Chevron go into my bank accounts and take all my life’s savings because I did not have the funds mto cover these costs. Chevron still has a pending motion to order me to pay them an additional $32 million in legal fees. That’s where things stand today. I ask you humbly: might that be enough punishment already for a Class B misdemeanor?

I respect the rule of law. I respect the process. Let’s agree to let the appellate court do its work and any residual discovery issues can be addressed on the civil side. Please sentence me to time served, allow this ankle bracelet to be removed, let me family get their father and husband back, and allow me to be free. Thank you.


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