After contempt conviction, attorney Donziger asks for new trial

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
  • Donziger reiterates special prosecution illegally appointed
  • Sentencing date set to Oct. 1

(Reuters) - American lawyer Steven Donziger, who was found guilty of criminal contempt after spending more than two decades trying to prove that Chevron Corp polluted Ecuador's rainforest, has asked a Manhattan federal court for a new trial.

In a Tuesday filing, Donziger asked Senior U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska to toss a July verdict that found him guilty of six counts of criminal contempt, arguing that the private lawyers serving as prosecutors for the United States were serving illegally because the U.S. Department of Justice declined to supervise them.

The special prosecutors, including Seward & Kissel's Brian Maloney and Rita Glavin, who left Seward & Kissel to found her own firm in March, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Donziger's attorney Ron Kuby told Reuters: "Simply stated, the appointment of the special prosecutors was invalid because they were not supervised by any principal officer of the United States, neither were they principal officers."

Donziger was tried in May. Preska set his sentencing for Oct. 1.

In his motion for a new trial, Donziger says that in a May email, an acting deputy attorney general refused to oversee the special prosecution. That violates a constitutional requirement that the DOJ oversee it, he argues.

Donziger further says that a Supreme Court June ruling in United States v. Arthrex Inc bolsters the argument that special prosecutors must be supervised by "principal officers" in their position as inferior officers of the United States.

In the high court's decision, a slim majority of the justices ruled that the appointment of judges on the Patent Trial and Appeal Board violated a constitutional provision intended to ensure accountability for powerful government officials.

Glavin, who is also defending New York Governor Andrew Cuomo against accusations of sexual harassment, told the court last month when Donziger, in a motion to dismiss, first raised questions about the applicability of Arthrex that the ruling "has nothing to do with the exercise of the judiciary's inherent power as long recognized by Supreme Court."

Donziger's criminal case springs from post-judgment orders in a civil case in which a Manhattan judge in 2014 barred enforcement in the United States of a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron which Donziger had won in an Ecuadorian court. The judge found the ruling had been obtained through fraud.

Donziger was charged in August 2019 with the counts of criminal contempt for, among other things, failing to turn over his computer, phones and other electronic devices.

That same month, Preska ordered that he be detained at home where he remains.

Preska set his sentencing for Oct. 1.

The case is United States v. Donziger, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 1:19-cr-00561.

For United States: Rita Glavin of Glavin and Brian Maloney of Seward & Kissel.

For Donziger: Martin Garbus of Offit Kurman and Ronald Kuby.

Read more:

Lawyer who sued Chevron over Ecuador pollution found guilty of contempt

Citing Arthrex, Donziger says private prosecutor unconstitutional

'He can't go anywhere,' Donziger's lawyer implores

Lawyer who sued Chevron over Ecuador pollution faces N.Y. contempt trial

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Thomson Reuters

New York-based correspondent covering environmental, climate and energy litigation.