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Est. April 5, 2002
Nov 12, 2020 - Issue 841
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There are many examples of the corporate state crushing an individual or a movement and the American people can see it happening just about any day, but there are some examples that are so egregious that they warrant front page news in every outlet. The case of Steven Donziger is one.

His case has not been much publicized by the mass media and, therefore, has not been seared into the consciousness of the people, but it should be. We know what SLAPP suits are: Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. They are designed by the deep-pocketed in Corporate America to stop lawsuits by citizens or their organizations, to exhaust their treasuries in defending what tend to be frivolous, but very effective lawsuits. And they do tend to stop public participation in its tracks.

Steven Donziger, a Harvard Law School graduate, did not set out to become an environmental lawyer, but when he took on the case of some 30,000 indigenous people in various tribes and peasant farmers in the Ecuadorian rainforest against Chevron and its casual poisoning of the people, he didn’t have any idea of what the giant oil company had in store for him.

What has happened to Donziger is beyond SLAPP suits on steroids, rather, it is the destruction of a part of the world that is irreplaceable and is the lifeblood of the people who depend on the forest for life itself. It is also the destruction of the people, bit by bit, by making them sick with maladies and diseases that were unknown to them before Chevron.

Donziger’s case is one of the worst examples of corruption of politics and the judiciary in the U.S. that can be seen in a plutocracy. Rule by the oligarchs has been the case in the U.S. for a long time and it has only intensified under the crackpot rule of President Trump. Trump’s incompetence and ignorance of most issues have made it much worse. It could be said that he is guilty of felonious malfeasance and there are probably hundreds of crimes and misdemeanors of which he is guilty, but he doesn’t much fear prosecution, because that’s not how it’s done in a plutocracy.

The case of Steven Donziger has been long in the making and it’s remarkable how many millions (there are estimates it surpasses $1 billion) a giant corporation is willing to spend to crush one man. He has laid out in short how he has come to be placed under house arrest for defending what are defenseless peoples. Here is his story:

We are living in times of extreme crises. We all know that. We also know that our dependence on fossil fuels and the power of Big Oil have contributed extensively to these crises. I have spent much of my professional life helping Indigenous peoples and local communities in Ecuador win a historic $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron for the deliberate dumping of cancer-causing oil waste into the Amazon. As part of a vicious retaliation campaign, Chevron has attacked me for 10 years using hundreds of lawyers with the goal of blocking my advocacy, bankrupting my family, and frightening off activists and environmental allies.

Chevron recently orchestrated my criminal contempt prosecution after I appealed an unprecedented and apparently illegal order from a federal judge that I turn over my computer and phone for review by Chevron lawyers. After the regular federal prosecutor in Manhattan (the SDNY) rejected the charges, the charging judge appointed a corporate law firm with deep ties to the oil and gas industry to prosecute me. This private law firm, Seward & Kissel, had me put under indefinite house arrest for the last 15 months and only recently admitted that Chevron was a client.

I am the only person in pre-trial detention in the entire country on a misdemeanor charge. I have now been detained without trial for more than 4x the longest sentence ever imposed on a lawyer convicted of the same charge. The judge has denied me a jury, let a for-profit Chevron law firm prosecute me, and now has removed my two lead lawyers from the case on the eve of a trial scheduled for Nov. 3. The outcome of this case is critical not just for me and my family but also for the larger global struggle for environmental justice and indigenous rights. To meet this challenge, I need financial support urgently.‍

Funds raised are not tax-deductible. They will be held in trust and administered by the Friedman Rubin law firm in Seattle, Washington. Richard Friedman, the principal, has represented me pro bono in many aspects of the litigation. Funds will pay legal costs, basic living expenses and to raise awareness. Legal expenses alone are expected to surpass $1 million. Donations of all sizes are deeply appreciated.

If you would like to Donate By Check: Friedman Rubin, In Trust for the Legal Defense of Steven Donziger, 1126 Highland Avenue, Bremerton, WA 98337.

The four years that the American people have suffered under the regime of Donald Trump is just an inkling of what could come under the full flowering of plutocracy. He has ruled the country as any authoritarian would and was consolidating power in his White House, over both Congress and the judiciary, and of the latter, the prize was his last-minute nomination of the sixth right-wing justice to the U.S. Supreme Court. He was, of course, abetted in that bit of hypocrisy by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, his lapdog in that chamber.

By now, the entire country has been exposed (not unlike Covid-19) to the crimes and misdemeanors of the current president and yet, it appears that half the country is willing to accept that, or the election would not have been as close as it was. Half the country is looking for a father figure that tells them that, if you leave running the country to me, everything will be alright. They’ve bought it and are willing to live with it. Trump’s cultists talk a lot about freedom, but they don’t know what’s in store for them, even when Trump is the loser in this election. It will take a long time to right the wrongs that have been perpetrated upon them in four decades, but especially in the past four years.

Donziger has been denied a jury trial and Chevron has framed him to have him charged with legal wrongdoing, but, according to The Nation magazine, “some 29 Nobel laureates, including nine Peace Prize winners, signed a letter defending Donziger; 475 lawyers and human rights defenders signed another letter, which called the struggle ‘one of the most important corporate accountability and human rights cases of our time.’” As any plutocrat, Trump is comfortable in his lifelong habit of abusing the judicial system (constant lawsuits which drain his victims’ bank accounts) to gain either profit or to prove that he is not “a loser.” In that regard, this election looks like the end of the line for him.

Just as important as contributing to Donziger’s legal defense fund is getting the word out about his case, which highlights the condition of the nation’s politics and its judiciary. His case should frighten even the most comfortable and inert citizen. It could happen to anyone who actively seeks justice. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.

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Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
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