Special prosecutors' bill in Donziger contempt case tops $670,000

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Attorney Steven Donziger. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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  • Donziger calls the sum "absurd"
  • Lead prosecutor says Donziger's repeated trial adjournments drove up costs

(Reuters) - Private lawyers who were hired to prosecute disbarred environmental lawyer Steven Donziger in a federal criminal contempt case that ended in his conviction were paid more than $670,000 for work performed from mid-2019 to mid-2021, according to court papers and a review of paid invoices (here, here and here).

The payments were made to a team of three New York City lawyers, whom a Manhattan federal judge appointed as special prosecutors to pursue criminal contempt charges against Donziger after the Department of Justice declined a court referral to prosecute him, citing lack of resources. The invoices also covered paralegal staff costs. The lawyers mostly worked for law firm Seward & Kissel during the time period covered.

In a tweet, Donziger called the money paid to the prosecutors "absurd."

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Rita Glavin of Glavin PLLC, the lead special prosecutor in his case, said that the cost of his prosecution had largely been driven up by Donziger's repeated trial adjournment requests and filing of repetitive motions. Glavin worked for Seward & Kissel until she launched her own firm in March 2021.

Judge Loretta Preska also cited Donziger's "repetitive motions, seeking relief that the Court had already denied" as the reason his home confinement, and the case, was prolonged, according to a court transcript.

Donziger was convicted and sentenced last year in the case that stems from a separate, civil case in which a 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.

Donziger, who was disbarred in New York in 2020, was charged with contempt when he failed to turn over his computer, phones and other electronic devices, among other conduct. He has appealed the contempt conviction and is currently serving his sentence from home after being released from prison under a pandemic-era early release program.

Donziger's defense team obtained the paid invoices pursuant to an order by Judge Preska.

Jeffrey Cohen, an associate professor at Boston College Law School and a former federal prosecutor who follows the case, said that the amount paid "seems to contradict the claim that there's not enough resources for the U.S. Attorney's Office to handle the case."

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 PLLC; Brian Maloney and Sareen Karla Armani of Seward & Kissel

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

Read more:

Donziger appeal to center on special prosecutor role

Lawyer who sued Chevron over Ecuador pollution found guilty of contempt

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Thomson Reuters

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