Chevron foe Steven Donziger fights to keep D.C. law license

Attorney Steven Donziger arrives at the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in New York
Attorney Steven Donziger, who won a multi-billion dollar judgment against Chevron on behalf of Ecuadorian villagers, speaks to supporters as he arrives with his family for his criminal contempt trail at the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in New York, U.S. May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
  • Donziger says New York officials wrongly disbarred him over his conduct in Chevron case
  • The environmental lawyer recently completed a six-month sentence for criminal contempt

Steven Donziger, the Manhattan attorney who spent decades in a legal battle with Chevron Corp over rainforest pollution in Ecuador, is fighting to keep his law license in Washington, D.C., after being disbarred in New York.

Attorneys with the D.C. Bar last month directed Donziger to say why he should not also be blocked from practicing in D.C. following his 2020 New York disbarment. In a brief Thursday, Donziger’s attorneys argued that potentially “significant violations of due process rights” in the New York disbarment “make it an inappropriate basis from which to impose reciprocal discipline.”

The brief was filed as Donziger also challenges his New York disbarment at the U.S. Supreme Court. A New York appeals court found Donziger guilty of “egregious” misconduct in winning a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron in an Ecuadorian court, which the oil giant later challenged in U.S. court. A New York federal judge in 2014 blocked the judgment’s U.S. enforcement, siding with Chevron’s claims that it had been obtained through bribery, fraud and extortion.

Donziger’s lawyers argued in Thursday's filing that he was not given a fair disciplinary proceeding in New York after a judicial referee recommended lifting his suspension. They said a witness who testified about bribery in the original Chevron case later admitted to lying.

The lawyers asked for Donziger's case to be dismissed or referred to D.C.'s Board on Professional Responsibility to determine whether he was afforded due process in the New York proceeding, before "a professional death sentence is imposed."

Another Manhattan judge last year found Donziger guilty of criminal contempt charges for defying court orders related to the Chevron litigation, including his refusal to turn over his computer and other electronic devices.

Donziger was sentenced to six months on those charges, which were brought by private lawyers appointed by the court to serve as prosecutors after the Justice Department declined to pursue the case. He completed the sentence last month, after being released from prison in December through a pandemic waiver to complete the term at home.

Asked about the D.C. filing, a Chevron spokesperson on Friday pointed to Donziger's criminal contempt conviction as well as his previous disbarment. "This is not someone who should be practicing law in the United States or any other country that abides by the rule of law," the spokesperson said.

Donziger is represented by Harvard Law School's Charles Nesson and Michael Frisch, a former disciplinary counsel in D.C. and current ethics counsel at Georgetown University Law Center.

(This story was updated to include a statement from Chevron.)

Read more:

Lawyer who took on Chevron in Ecuador is disbarred in New York

Donziger asks SCOTUS to take up disbarment case

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Jacqueline Thomsen, based in Washington, D.C., covers legal news related to policy, the courts and the legal profession. Follow her on Twitter at @jacq_thomsen and email her at