In 2011, activist Steven Donziger worked with Ecuadoran indigenous people to secure a $9.5B judgment against Chevron (then Texaco) for Amazon rainforest pollution. Chevron didn't pay that judgment.
Instead, it embarked upon a campaign of legal-system terrorism that's seen Donziger under house arrest for a year. The story is incredible, and it illustrates how US courts have been corrupted to serve corporations rather than hold them to account.
Here's how Chevron converted the US judiciary into a system of literal private law: first, they countersued Donziger in the court of the SNDY's Lewis A Kaplan, a judge with a long history of corporate-friendly activity, who had a sizable investment in Chevron through a fund.
Kaplan suggested the Chevron swear out a racketeering complaint against Donziger, which they did. But prosectors refused to take up the case.
Then Kaplan invoked an obscure rule that allowed him to appoint a private firm to serve as public, criminal prosecutors.
The firm Kaplan hired to prosecute Donziger is Seward & Kissel, who were Chevron's lawyers as recently as 2018, and represents many companies in Chevron's supply chain.
These white-shoe prosecutors claim that Donziger paid a judge in Ecuador to write the judgment against Chevron, even though that same judge (who's been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by Chevron) later recanted key elements of his testimony at a World Bank hearing.
Kaplan ordered Donziger to surrender his phone and laptop. Donziger refused, citing the confidentiality of his clients' private communications. Kaplan hit him with a $3.4m sanction - the largest in the history of New York's courts.
Donziger has been under house arrest for a year. He's seeking to have Chevron's (former) lawyers removed as special prosecutors in his case, and has been backed by an open letter signed by 29 Nobel laureates and a coalition of human rights activists.
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