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Judge grants Donziger's request to teleconference Oct. sentencing

3 minute read

Attorney Steven Donziger arrives for his criminal contempt trail at the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in the Manhattan borough of New York City, May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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  • Judge says decision in line with CARES Act
  • Coronavirus legislation allows for video, teleconferencing of misdemeanor sentencings

(Reuters) - A federal judge in Manhattan agreed on Thursday to teleconference the planned October sentencing of disbarred lawyer Steven Donziger, granting his request to allow "interested spectators" to view the proceedings remotely.

Senior U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska said in a court order that her decision was "consistent" with the CARES Act coronavirus response legislation. The CARES Act allows for the video or teleconferencing of misdemeanor sentencings, among other court criminal proceedings, during the pandemic national emergency.

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

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His criminal case stems 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 Corp that Donziger had won in an Ecuadorian court. The judge said the Ecuadorian judgment had been secured through bribery, fraud and extortion.

Donziger's lawyer, Ronald Kuby, said he was "pleased that the public will be able to listen to the final chapter" of what he called "this Chevron-produced horror show."

Chevron spokesperson Jim Craig declined to comment. Rita Glavin of Glavin PLLC, a special prosecutor in the case, declined to comment.

Donziger requested on Tuesday the video or teleconferencing of his Oct. 1 sentencing for six counts of criminal contempt, of which Preska found him guilty in a bench trial held in July.

The embattled lawyer in his letter to Preska arguing for teleconferencing said that COVID-19 concerns could result in members of the public being incapable of entering the courtroom to observe his sentencing.

"As this Court is aware, there is significant public interest in this case," his filing said.

In July, a few dozen demonstrators assembled for Donziger's trial and protested the proceeding by waiving placards and chanting outside the Manhattan federal court where it took place.

Preska wrote on Thursday that a subsequent order would contain the "relevant information" on the teleconference.

Preska earlier this year denied Donziger's bid to allow television networks to broadcast his trial, saying that the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure prohibits the broadcasting of criminal trials and noting that the CARES Act does not authorize remote video teleconferencing for trial proceedings.

Donziger faces a maximum of six months imprisonment or a $5,000 fine.

Glavin last month said in a sentencing submission that she deferred to the court on the appropriate sentence to impose on him.

Donziger and his lawyers have until Sept. 21 to tell Preska the sentencing they consider appropriate.

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; and Brian Maloney of Seward & Kissel

For Donziger: Martin Garbus of Offit Kurman; and Ronald Kuby of the Law Office of Ronald L. Kuby

Read more:

Special prosecutor: 'no specific recommendation' on Donziger sentence

Lawyer who sued Chevron over Ecuador pollution found guilty of contempt

Donziger's bid for new trial doesn't address guilt, says special prosecutor

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

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Sebastien Malo reports on environmental, climate and energy litigation. Reach him at sebastien.malo@thomsonreuters.com

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