Washington, DC – Late last night, ten leading civil rights, human rights, and environmental organizations – members of the national coalition challenging Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), the Protect the Protest task force – filed a brief to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit demonstrating Chevron’s corruption of the judicial process in its decades-long effort to avoid paying for a cleanup of 16 billion gallons of toxic waste it dumped into the Amazon. Furthermore, the brief asserts the appointment of Chevron’s former law firm Seward and Kissel to criminally prosecute attorney Steven Donziger is highly improper and undermines the very notion of an impartial judiciary.
More than a decade ago, Chevron set out to “demonize” Steven Donziger, the human rights lawyer who held Chevron accountable for years of pollution in the Ecuadorian Amazon – first in a U.S. lawsuit and then in Ecuadorian courts. After losing the $9.5 billion judgment in Ecuador, Chevron engaged in a pattern of corrupt and illegal behavior to win a retaliatory SLAPP suit in the U.S. by vilifying the plaintiffs and their lawyers, illegally paying its star witness and harassing, intimidating, and punishing those who supported Donziger.
Donziger has been under house arrest for over ten months while appealing an order to surrender his computer, cell phone, and email passwords to the court. Now, the judge is permitting the use of private lawyers as prosecutors after the U.S. Attorney’s Office twice refused to prosecute. The private law firm, Seward and Kissel, previously represented Chevron in private practice and continued coordination with Chevron.
Paul Paz y Miño, Amazon Watch Associate Director and Protect the Protest task force member said: “Reasonable observers may be tempted to conclude that the court picked a side by retaining such a partial prosecutor. Permitting Seward and Kissel to remain as prosecutor would undermine confidence in the judiciary.”
SLAPP suits are filed by powerful actors, often major corporations, in an attempt to ruin defendants who have engaged in constitutionally-protected activity – including the right to petition the courts. SLAPP suits often follow a pattern of serial bullying and may sweep up numerous parties with some connection to the case. While SLAPP suits are typically civil litigation such as defamation suits, the fact that a law firm connected to Chevron is pursuing a criminal prosecution here does not mean that the case is not a SLAPP suit – it means that it marks a dangerous new frontier in such tactics. These organizations are submitting the amicus brief to show that as long as this prosecution is not independent of Chevron, it should be considered a SLAPP suit – the latest in a long pattern of abuse of the law by Chevron and its counsel.
Paul Paz y Miño continued: “Steven Donziger is being criminally prosecuted not only for his advocacy but by the very targets of his advocacy. Chevron has not merely sued its adversary; it is pulling the strings of a criminal prosecution. That the prosecutor of Chevron’s nemesis is Chevron’s former law firm not only undermines confidence in the prosecutor’s impartiality; it would also undermine confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary.”
The amicus brief was submitted by:
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)
Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
The International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR)
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF)
Portland Rising Tide
Rainforest Action Network (RAN)