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

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Attorney Steven Donziger speaks with reporters outside the United States Court of Appeals in New York City April 20, 2015. Chevron Corp urged a U.S. appeals court on Monday to uphold a ruling finding that an American lawyer used corrupt means to secure a $9.5 billion pollution judgment in Ecuador. A lawyer for Chevron told the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that Steven Donziger, a U.S. lawyer who represented a group of Ecuadorians that sued the oil giant, pursued a case "shot through with fraud." REUTERS/Mike Segar

NEW YORK, May 10 (Reuters) - A disbarred American lawyer who spent more than two decades battling Chevron Corp (CVX.N) over pollution in the Ecuadorian rainforest attempted on Monday to fend off criminal contempt charges stemming from a lawsuit against him by the energy company.

Steven Donziger is on trial in Manhattan federal court for failing to turn over his computer, phones and other electronic devices and refusing court orders to surrender his passport in the civil case brought by Chevron.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska is presiding over the case with no jury.

In an opening statement, prosecuting attorney Rita Glavin said that Donziger had consciously chosen to disobey court orders to turn over his devices and documents.

"Choices have consequences," she said.

Martin Garbus, arguing for Donziger, painted a different picture, saying the court had not initially been clear about what it wanted the lawyer to hand over.

The case is the latest twist in a long-running battle stemming from Donziger's representation of villagers in Ecuador's Lago Agrio region who sought to hold Chevron liable for water and soil contamination in the jungle between 1964 and 1992. Chevron has said Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron, cleaned up the pollution, and that state-owned Petroecuador was mainly responsible for the contamination.

Donziger in 2011 won a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron in an Ecuadorian court. Later that year, the U.S. company sued Donziger in Manhattan federal court, claiming he and his associates pressured the presiding judge in Ecuador.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in 2014 ruled in favor of Chevron, saying the Ecuadorian judgment had been secured through bribery, fraud and extortion.

Chevron sought to recoup money Donziger reaped as a result of the judgment, and Donziger was ordered to turn over certain electronic devices to the company's forensic experts. When he refused, Kaplan charged him with criminal contempt.

Donziger has said the charges violate his rights to due process under the U.S. Constitution.

The Harvard-trained lawyer was disbarred by a state appeals court in New York last year.

Reporting by Sebastien Malo Editing by Will Dunham and Noeleen Walder

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