Donziger appeal to center on special prosecutor role

Attorney Donziger outside Manhattan Federal Courthouse in New York City
Attorney Steven Donziger, who faced sentencing Friday for criminal contempt stemming from his decades-long legal battle with Chevron Corp, embraces his son Matthew after his hearing outside Manhattan Federal Courthouse in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., October 1, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
  • Court filing asks to keep Donziger in home confinement
  • Donziger's lawyer to argue special prosecutor acting for U.S. lacked constitutional authority

(Reuters) - Disbarred lawyer Steven Donziger, who was convicted and sentenced for criminal contempt after a decades-long legal battle with Chevron Corp over rainforest pollution in Ecuador, has asked a federal appeals court to keep him out of jail while it hears his case.

In a Friday filing in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, lawyer William Taylor of Zuckerman Spaeder offered a glimpse of the arguments he will make in his bid to reverse Donziger's lower court conviction and six-month prison sentence.

Donziger will argue he was unlawfully prosecuted by a private attorney who served on behalf of the United States as special prosecutor, Taylor wrote.

The special prosecutor, Rita Glavin of Glavin PLLC, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Taylor, a prominent Washington, D.C. litigator who is now leading Donziger's defense, also wrote that his appeal will argue Glavin, a private lawyer, lacked the constitutional authority to act as an executive officer of the United States in her role as special prosecutor, without being supervised and directed by higher echelons of government.

Taylor's filing says that in a May email to Donziger's counsel, a Justice Department acting deputy attorney general turned down a request to intervene in his criminal case.

Donziger told Reuters: "The danger is if I am forced to serve the entire sentence and later a court of appeals exonerates me, I will have served the maximum sentence for a crime I did not commit."

Senior U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska in Manhattan federal court found Donziger guilty of six counts of criminal contempt following a May bench trial. He was sentenced this month.

Donziger, who was disbarred in New York last year, was charged in 2019 with failing to turn over his computer, phones and other electronic devices, among other conduct. The New York City resident has been in home detention since August 2019 to address concerns of flight risk.

The contempt case stems from post-judgment orders in a civil case in which another Manhattan judge, in 2014, barred enforcement in the United States of a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron Corp that Donziger had won in an Ecuadorian court. The judge said the Ecuadorian judgment had been secured through bribery, fraud and extortion.

In Friday's filing, Donziger's lawyers argue he should be allowed to remain under home confinement - where he has been for two years - rather than jailed immediately, because he is not a flight risk.

Donziger would lose his rights to an appeal "were he to become a fugitive now," the filing says, calling it "a compelling incentive not to flee."

The case is United States of America v. Donziger, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-2486.

For United States of America: Rita Glavin of Glavin PLLC

For Donziger: William Taylor of Zuckerman Spaeder

Read more:

Lawyer who sued Chevron over Ecuador pollution found guilty of contempt

Lawyer who sued Chevron sentenced to six months in contempt case

Donziger asks judge to heed U.N. experts' finding of 'arbitrary' detention

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Thomson Reuters

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