You know that free-floating sense that multinational corporations are above the law, able to buy their way out of consequences for even the most blatant, heinous crimes?
There's a (nearly) unbelievable, highly concrete example of it underway right at this moment.
It's the story of Steven Donziger, a campaigning lawyer who sued Chevron for its ecocide in Ecuador, a genocide against indigenous people, committed with cooperation from a brutal military dictatorship.
Donziger managed the impossible. He secured a conviction against Chevron, and a $9.8 billion judgment against the company, owed to the indigenous people they poisoned, whose lands and bodies remain poisoned and sick to this day.
Now, if you're an exec at Chevron and you value money more than life, the rational move that proceeds from this judgment is straightforward: any legal maneuver that costs LESS than $9.8b is your fiduciary duty to your shareholders.
Chevron paid for Guerra and his family to move to the USA, paid for his immigration process, paid his income tax, and coached him for 53 days before he appeared in the Southern District of New York Court of Judge Lewis A Kaplan.
Kaplan believed Guerra, and continued to believe him even after Guerra recanted his testimony and admitted that he'd lied at Chevron's behest.
Six other courts, including the Supreme Courts of Ecuadoran and Canada, have upheld the fine against Chevron.
Why would Kaplan believe Guerra after Guerra said he was lying? Maybe it has something to do with Kaplan's own legal background: before he was a judge, he was a corporate lawyer working for a firm that represented tobacco companies in cancer liability lawsuits.
Kaplan used Guerra's testimony to convict Donziger on civil racketeering charges. Chevron brought the charges, and cannily, they dropped their demand for monetary compensation, which meant Donziger couldn't get a jury trial.
But the fact that Chevron didn't seek monetary damages doesn't mean what you'd expect: after Kaplan ruled against Donziger, the judge hit him with an order to pay Chevron millions in court fees.
Worse still, he ordered Donziger to turn over his laptop and phone - not to the court, but to Chevron, who would then get access to his privileged attorney-client communications with the victims of Chevron's ecocide, opening those people to violent retaliation.
Donziger appealed the order. Kaplan then charged him with a misdemeanor for having the temerity to appeal. This was so chickenshit that the District Attorney refused to take up the case, so Kaplan appointed a corporate lawfirm that fronts for Big Oil to prosecute Donziger.
This firm, Seward & Kissel, has a blue-chip roster of climate criminals for clients, including Chevron itself.
They are prosecuting Donziger in front of Judge Loretta Preska, whom Kaplan hand-picked to hear the case (he had to violate SDNY procedures to make this happen).
Preska is a member of the Federalist Society, a corporate-backed law organization whose major donors include Chevron.
Donziger is fighting this with his hands tied behind his back. Not only did Kaplan get him disbarred (there's a pending appeal), but he had him *arrested*.
Donziger is the only person in the entire USA who is in pre-trial detention for a misdemeanor. The only one. He's been under house arrest for more than 580 days. The maximum sentence for the misdemeanor is 180 days. He still hasn't had a trial.
Donziger spoke to Esquire's Jack Holmes about his case, describing how Kaplan has barred him and his Ecuadoran clients from seeking enforcement of the judgement anywhere in the USA.
Preska, the Federalist Society judge whom Kaplan picked to hear the contempt charge, has denied his request for a jury trial.
Donziger calls it "corporate political prosecution" and calls himself "a corporate political prisoner."
This is bigger than the judgment against Chevron. As Donziger says, "if you can't do this kind of legal work to hold these polluters accountable, the destruction of the earth will happen at a faster pace."
Any ideas on the most effective way of fighting back, beyond just "don't give them your money" and "call your representative?
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