After being under house arrest for more than 700 days, a human rights and environmental lawyer was convicted of contempt of court last month. Legal legend This proves Deep-rooted conflicts of interest When it comes to climate justice, the entire judicial system is hierarchical. In Steven Donziger’s conviction, the trial judge who transferred him to the trial, the second judge who was asked to preside over the trial, and the private prosecutor who tried him all had deep connections with Chevron, and Donziger won a landmark The multi-billion-dollar ruling opposes.
The story began in 2011, when Donziger filed a lawsuit against Texaco (now Chevron) in Ecuador, claiming that it caused harm to the indigenous peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon. The fossil fuel company decided to deliberately put 16 billion gallons of toxic Waste is discharged from its oil fields to rivers, groundwater and farmland.Chevron’s refusal to comply with environmental regulations-this has won the company An additional 5 billion USD The judge in the case found that over 20 years, the actions of the oil giant had directly harmed more than 30,000 Ecuadorians. The case led by Donziger went all the way to the Supreme Court of Ecuador, and successfully obtained US$9.5 billion in environmental damage compensation for the Amazon community in a historic climate judicial ruling.
Chevron never paid Ecuador these billions of dollars in clean-up costs. Instead, it launched a legal attack on Donziger in the Southern District of New York. Judge Lewis A. Kaplan found Donziger guilty of bribery and crime in a trial without a jury. Crime of fraud. Kaplan, former corporate lawyer, Financial investments held At Chevron when the decision was made.When Kaplan asked Donziger to turn over his computer, phone, and other personal devices (including passwords) to the court and therefore to Chevron, and Donziger refused on the grounds of violating lawyer-client privileges, Kaplan charged him with six criminal contempt of court crime Article 42According to the requirements of this rule, Kaplan was disqualified from hearing subsequent contempt cases, but before that, he bypassed local rules, personally selected judges and selected private prosecutors responsible for overseeing the case. He chose the district judge Loretta Preska (Loretta Preska), who had served on the advisory board of the Federalist Association, of which Chevron has always been an important member. donor.
in a letter When sent to the Administrative Office of the United States Court at the end of last month, Senators Ed Markey and Sheldon Whitehouse specifically questioned the use of private prosecutors in the contempt of Don Zieg case.The three prosecutors appointed by Kaplan, Brian Maloney, Sallen Armani and Rita Gravin (he is also Andrew Cuomo’s Private lawyer), both working in the law firm of Seward & Kissel.That company once represented Chevron for Most recently in 2018“These prosecutions,” the senator wrote, “are very unusual and may raise questions about the basic fairness of our criminal justice system.”
In fact, the obvious conflict of interest in private prosecution is directly inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s precedent.In the 1987 decision Young v. United States ex rel. Wieden and Phils, Supreme Court rule It is believed that when the private prosecutor initiates a criminal case of contempt, “of course, the public prosecution should be selflessly prosecuted like the public prosecutor.”
The court warned that “public trust in the selfless behavior of private prosecutors” is essential to maintaining the integrity of the judicial system.This means that even the interests shown by the private prosecutor may be deemed to have violated Wieden.
Guha Krishnamurthi, associate professor of law at the University of Oklahoma, said: “Appearance is really important to the rule of law and our judiciary.” Krishnamurthi believes that the criminal justice system’s “maximum protection” One is the selfless prosecutor, who can decide whether to pursue the case is beneficial to the criminal justice system. He said that the fact that public prosecutors are accountable to the government and the public strengthens this protection, while private prosecutors do not.
“I think this is an obvious abuse and violates the defendant’s constitutional right to due process. You cannot allow a person with a conflict of interest, a person who has a personal reason to see the person they are suing, to be convicted,” said Louis Raphson, Professor of Law at Rutgers School of Law, and founder of the University Environmental Law Clinic. “This is not an appropriate procedure. In my opinion, it is not a constitutional procedure.”
Martin Garbus, Donziger’s lawyer and a well-known human rights litigation veteran, said: “This is a distortion of justice. The whole idea is that you can get a lawyer who worked for Chevron in criminal cases. Sue Donziger.” “Obviously, it violates the law. … If you look at the legal system that deals with disinterest, people are disqualified far less than the participation here.”
Raphson admits that in certain situations, such as police brutality or other governments are required to prosecute themselves, private prosecutors are indeed beneficial. Since the public prosecutor works for the government, a private prosecutor may be needed to ensure selflessness and justice. However, after the selfless prosecutor refuses to pursue the charges and the judge decides to proceed, they are usually used in cases such as Donziger. “This is more of the reason why judges need to make mistakes where conflicts are impossible,” Raphson said. Speaking of the Donziger case, he added, “It seems that conflict is almost inevitable… Obviously this is not accidental.”
When it comes to decisions that may prevent one of the largest climate justice decisions of the past decade from taking effect, this manifestation of conflict of interest is very important — and may be detrimental to future climate justice litigation.
“It’s scary to hunt down a big company [and] Fighting the government is terrible because they have so much power and so much influence that they can cause a lot of harm to someone’s life,” Raphson said. “If it brings [environmental justice cases like Donziger’s] They will be subject to a biased decision as to whether they should be punished…this will have a deterrent effect on lawyers who bring such cases. “
This deterrence could have a huge impact on the climate, especially during this week’s New report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Shows that the world is moving further towards climate catastrophe, and this crisis is driven To a large extent by fossil fuel companies such as ChevronKrishnamurti added: “It really ensures that the chilling deterrence…will not happen. It depends on the judiciary.” “And the way you do this is not just in the form of rules. [but] Be truly loyal to conflicts of interest and disqualify if necessary. “