Trial Begins for Lawyer Who Sued Chevron over Ecuador Pollution

A disbarred Harvard-trained American lawyer who’s battling Chevron Corp over pollution in the Ecuadorian rainforest more than two decades attempted on Monday to fend off criminal contempt charges stemming from a lawsuit against him by the energy company, Reuters reports.

Steven Donziger is on trial in Manhattan federal court for failing to turn over his computer, phones and other electronic devices and refusing court orders to surrender his passport in the civil case brought by Chevron. U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska is presiding over the case with no jury.

“Steven Donziger…has intentionally and repeatedly disobeyed court order after court order after court order,” Rita Glavin, a private lawyer serving as the prosecutor, said during opening statements Monday.

Martin Garbus, arguing for Donziger, painted a different picture, saying the court had not initially been clear about what it wanted the lawyer to hand over.

“Mr. Donziger takes his responsibility to his clients, the people of Ecuador” seriously, Mr. Garbus said.

The case is the latest twist in a long-running battle stemming from Donziger’s representation of villagers in Ecuador’s Lago Agrio region who sought to hold Chevron liable for water and soil contamination in the jungle between 1964 and 1992.

Chevron has said Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron, cleaned up the pollution, and that state-owned Petroecuador was mainly responsible for the contamination.

Donziger in 2011 won a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron in an Ecuadorian court. Later that year, the U.S. company sued Donziger in Manhattan federal court, claiming he and his associates pressured the presiding judge in Ecuador.

Chevron sought to recoup money Donziger reaped as a result of the judgment, and Donziger was ordered to turn over certain electronic devices to the company’s forensic experts. When he refused, Kaplan charged him with criminal contempt.

Donziger has said the charges violate his rights to due process under the U.S. Constitution. He was disbarred by a state appeals court in New York last year.

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