New York appeals court suspends lawyer who sued Chevron over Ecuador claims

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A lawyer who has spent many years pursuing multibillion-dollar litigation blaming Chevron Corp for polluting the Ecuadorean rainforest was suspended on Tuesday from practicing law in New York by a state appeals court.

FILE PHOTO: Attorney Steven Donziger speaks with reporters outside the United States Court of Appeals in New York City April 20, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Representatives for the lawyer, Steven Donziger, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Donziger in 2011 won an $18 billion judgment, later reduced to $9.5 billion, against Chevron in Ecuador, where he represented villagers who blamed environmental contamination between 1964 and 1992 on Texaco, which Chevron later bought.

But in 2014, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan said Donziger and his legal team used bribery, coercion and fraud to obtain the judgment, and barred them from “profiting in any way from the egregious fraud that occurred.”

In Tuesday’s decision, a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division, First Department in Manhattan granted an order sought by the department’s attorney grievance committee finding Donziger guilty of professional misconduct.

It said that while Donziger had appealed Kaplan’s decision, which ran nearly 500 pages, he “chose not to challenge the underlying factual findings” addressing such conduct as bribery, witness tampering, and the ghostwriting of a court opinion.

“Because Judge Kaplan’s findings constitute uncontroverted evidence of serious professional misconduct which immediately threatens the public interest, respondent should be immediately suspended,” the appeals court said.

Donziger was admitted to practice law in New York in 1997.

He has been trying to enforce the Ecuadorean judgment in other countries, including Argentina, Brazil and Canada. The U.S. Supreme Court refused in June 2017 to take up his case.

Chevron has said it never had any assets in Ecuador. The company is based in San Ramon, California.

The case is In re: Donziger, New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, 1st Department, No. M-5635.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York