‘TRUTH’ with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Featuring Steven Donziger—Season 3 Episode 3
The following is a transcript of this video.
– Hi, welcome everybody. Today my guest is somebody very special, a colleague, a friend, one of my personal heroes: Steven Donziger. Steven is one of the world’s leading human rights lawyers. And his story is an extraordinary story, because it really shows the domination of our justice system, of our democracy, by corporate power in a way that many of the people who… All the show I’ve seen it in multiple guises, but what Steven’s been through is something that I think is a science fiction nightmare. It’s a dystopian nightmare of the corporate take over of American democracy. And it’s something, when you hear his story, I think most of you won’t believe it. To get ahead a little bit, Steven is now under house arrest. He’s an attorney who has been disbarred. He’s wearing an ankle bracelet. His bank accounts have been frozen. His passport has been taken. He is facing criminal charges not from a prosecutor, but from a law firm that is Chevron’s law firm, the company that is angry at him for beating them in a lawsuit. And they’ve been able to persuade a federal judge to appoint a private law firm with financial ties to the oil industry to prosecute Steven criminally. I didn’t even know this was possible in America. I actually have been prosecuted privately on criminal charges in Poland. But when I was over there, I was testifying before the Polish parliament, and Smithfield Foods prosecuted me for something that I said during that debate. And I said to people at that time, “This could never happen in the United States,” but actually it can, and it’s much worse. And Steven and I first met in… Well, I went down to Ecuador for the first time in 1988 to work on the oil issue. And at that time, we had been retained by CONFENIAE. And I think you were actually representing their kind of rival group called FAN. Those are the two groups of the indigenous Indians in that part of the Amazon, which is called Oriente. And the principal town is a little town called Lago Agrio. And Texaco had been in there since 1977. Texaco was later purchased by Chevron. Texaco was operating there a very, very sloppy oil operation. And they knew nobody was watching them except for the 30,000 indigenous people and some colonists who live in that area. It’s a very rich area. It literally is like Eden: it is a paradise. And there are many Indian groups. I was representing Shuar, which are the very famous head hunting group, the Achuar, the Kichwa, and many, many others who were members of this confederation called CONFENIAE. And Texaco had gone down there using what they call a pump and dump operation. First of all, they had very shoddy pipeline that spilled about 16.8 million gallons of oil between ’77 and ’88, but more insidiously, they were dumping the water from their production wells. When you draw an oil well, you’re bringing up, prior to the oil there’s a lot of very highly contaminated water that’s locked in the geology that you have to get rid of. And there are maybe up to a hundred gallons of this extremely toxic water. It’s called produced water. It’s a witch’s brew of benzene, toluene, xylene, and all of these soluble and insoluble contaminants that are associated with oil, with petroleum. And you have to bring that up, it comes up steaming hot. And in our country, you’re forced to collect it in barrels, and then properly dispose of it. But they were in the Amazon and nobody was watching. So, Texaco just took all of that toxic waste, and they dumped it into these big production pools, or simply into the nearest river. And from the pools, they were unlined and they just went into the river. And the Indians from the earliest days were complaining about it, that their children were dying of cancer, of poisoning, of gastrointestinal issues. They had eye infections, skin infections. They were dying of all kinds of immune-compromised that is associated with petroleum exposures. And Texaco would send its representatives in, and they would tell them time and again that is good for you. It’s like milk. It’s filled with vitamins and it cannot harm you. And the Indians knew they were being lied to, but they had no remedy. And finally, Steven Donziger shows up with a number of other human rights lawyers. And I remember when you sued them in the Southern District of New York, and Chevron didn’t want to be sued in the United States, ’cause it didn’t want to be in front of a jury. And it thought it could bribe the people, the judges in Ecuador and the government officials, and it could get a better result there. So, it told the judges in the Southern District of New York, this action should really be fought in Ecuador. And you fought them, and they won that, and it was transferred to Ecuador. And then, Steven in front of an Ecuadorian judge won the original judgment. Remind me, it was something like $18 billion.
– Which shocked them. And they had no intention of paying. They took all their infrastructure and assets and moved them out of Ecuador. And then, I think that was reduced to something like $9.5 billion, which was still a big chunk of pocket change. And they, instead of paying it, they began suing Steven. And they found a very sympathetic judge, Judge R. Kaplan in New York. And here’s a judge who has repeatedly, publicly said that this is an important company, it’s important for our economy, it’s important for our energy system, and thank God we have them. He loves Chevron. And he has done things that I don’t think have ever been done in the history of our country to a lawyer. And why don’t you fill in the blanks? Because I don’t mean to talk anymore in this. People want to hear you talking.
– Thank you, Robert. It’s funny, I remember you being involved in this issue in the early part of your career.
– With Cris Bonifaz when he first-
– Cristobal Bonifaz, yeah. He got me involved on that. Our first trip was in April of 1993, led by Cristobal. I went with Cristobal, his son John, who was a good friend from law school, some doctors and investigators to really investigate the reports that we had heard based on your work and Judith Kimerling’s, and others, about this awful, apocalyptic environmental catastrophe. And when we got there in April of 1993, I was a young lawyer. I was just stunned, shocked, appalled, sickened, nauseated. It was maddening to see what Texaco did, ’cause the main difference between the damage in Ecuador and say what BP did in the Gulf of Mexico was that in Ecuador it was done by design. The pollution happened as an engineering project, not as an accident. And people need to remember that.
– I think it was two or three times what Exxon spilled in Valdez.
– [Steven] Exactly.
– But in a much more sensitive environment, with people in it who are eating it every day for the rest of their lives; and not a drop has ever been cleaned up.
– Yeah. The extraordinary thing, in this kind of environment, the indigenous peoples, the rural communities, depend on the environment for their sustenance, meaning they drink out of fresh water sources. They don’t have faucets. They breathe the air. They eat the food that they capture in the jungle or fishing in the rivers. They bathe in the rivers and the streams. So what happened was over a period of really not that many years, because Texaco was deliberately and systematically dumping millions of gallons of this wastewater into streams and rivers that local people relied on for their drinking water and for their bathing and their sustenance, people became poisoned little by little. And when they started to question it, they were told by the Texaco engineers that the oil was like milk, it has vitamins. And the level of-
– I remember them telling me that.
– Yeah, the level of abuse, racism, whatever you want to call, was at levels that I had never and still haven’t seen before in kind of an environmental tort context. And I will say this. It’s been a long road by our legal team, and I’m not the only lawyer. There’s been a lot of really great lawyers who worked on this over the years. What Chevron has done to avoid paying a judgment in a case it lost in a court where it wanted the trial to be held, or in a court where it had accepted jurisdiction for this case, to me, is unprecedented in the annals of our country’s history. I believe that I am the target of what might be the most vicious and well-financed corporate retaliation campaign ever. They’ve used 60 law firms and 2,000 lawyers to attack me and other members of our team. And without this particular judge, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan who’s a New York federal judge, I don’t think this ever could have possibly happened. I mean, every step of the way, when they brought this civil racketeering case, it’s been infected by what I believe are due process violations, misconduct by Chevron’s lawyers, misconduct by Chevron’s witnesses, and false evidence. And really, the key operative fact that people need to remember when I talk about my house arrest is the judgment that I worked with others to help obtain for the people of Ecuador has been validated by 29 separate appellate judges in Ecuador and Canada. That is, by Ecuador’s Supreme Court, by Ecuador’s constitutional court, unanimous decisions. And also by the Ontario Court of Appeals in Canada as well as by Canada’s Supreme Court, the latter two not on the merits, but for enforcement purposes. But they also rejected Judge Kaplan’s findings that this case was obtained by fraud. And what ended up happening, Robert, is that as we were about to win the case the evidence against them was overwhelming, voluminous. I mean, they as much as admitted they’d been dumping toxic waste. They were trying to blame Petroecuador, the state oil company, but everyone knew that they had designed the system and they were the operators, so they had done this. So, as we were approaching the end of the trial, excuse me, in 2010, 2011, we came across an internal Chevron document, where one of the officials said, “Our longterm strategy to win this case is to demonize Donziger.” And they’ve been doing that now for 10 or 11 years, with the help of this particular judge here in New York. They ended up… In the law enforcing foreign judgments, the presumption is always in favor of the winning party. And to try to overcome that what they did is they paid this Ecuadorian man 2 million-plus dollars, flew him up here. Their lawyers at Gibson Dunn coached him for 53 consecutive days on how to testify. And he came into Judge Kaplan’s courtroom and said he had been in a meeting in Quito where I had approved a bribe of the trial judge. And it’s just completely false. There’s no evidence that ever happened other than the words from this paid Chevron witness, who, by the way, later recanted most of his testimony and admitted on cross-examination in a separate proceeding that he had been lying before Judge Kaplan. So on the basis of-
– And he was given millions of dollars and US citizenship for him and his entire family.
– And they paid the best immigration lawyer in America, actually the president then of the National Immigration Lawyers Association, Ira Kurzban, who is a fine lawyer. Chevron paid him to get this witness, Alberto Guerra, and his family, political asylum in the United States we believe under false pretense. But in any event it happened. He now lives in the United States. He was paid 24 times his salary in Ecuador when he moved here: expenses, income taxes, legal fees, housing, healthcare, car. He became a kept man by Chevron, and Judge Kaplan let this happen. And you can’t pay fact witnesses under legal ethics. You can pay an expert witness his or her fee, but not a fact witness. Judge Kaplan let Chevron pay this guy massive sums of money. We call it a bribe. I don’t know what they call it. I mean, we think they bribed this guy to try to frame me. And judge Kaplan denied me a jury. I never had a neutral factfinder, and there we are. So, he found that I participated in a fraud while 29 other judges validated the judgment based on the voluminous body of scientific evidence that was presented to the Ecuador court. And there’s one final quick point. Judge Kaplan refused to look at the evidence that had been presented in Ecuador. He just flat-out refused to look at any of the environmental evidence that he was purporting to determine whether the judgment in Ecuador was valid or not. So, it was really a reverse-engineered trial, it was not a fair trial, but the important point is the Ecuadorians, the affected communities have won their case. It’s a winning judgment. And I think this is happening to me, because we’ve been very successful, not because there were mistakes made.
– Well, let’s hear what has… Tell us about the parade of horribles that has happened to you at the hands of Judge Kaplan, ’cause it’s really… I don’t think anybody will believe this when they hear it.
– This is just… Okay, here we go.
– You’re sitting in your house right now wearing an ankle bracelet.
– In 10 days, it’ll be 600 days. Let me be clear about how this happened.
– And you have no passport. Your bank account is frozen. You’re not allowed to make a living. Plus, you’ve been disbarred.
– Yeah. Suspended me without a hearing. So what happened was after Judge Kaplan ruled against me, Chevron had dropped all its damages claims. They originally sued me for the largest amount of money ever an individual’s ever been sued for in this country: $60 billion.
– $60 billion.
– But to avoid a jury, they dropped all the damages claims, because for those who don’t know under our Constitution, in a civil case you only get a jury if you’re sued for money. So, to avoid a jury, that is, to avoid giving me a jury of my peers and having Judge Kaplan decide the case alone, Chevron on the eve of trial dropped all the money damages claims, knowing Kaplan would signal to them what he was going to do. And I knew at that point it was a lost cause. So, the trial then happened. It was very rapid and I believe truncated and unfair. It produced the result we expected. Kaplan relied on this paid Chevron witness to conclude that I had tried to bribe the trial judge, again, a finding rejected by 29 appellate judges in Ecuador and Canada. Nevertheless, we kept going and continuing our enforcement actions against Chevron’s assets in other countries, including in Canada, where our team was having quite a bit of success. I think Chevron got really… This is my theory, at least. Chevron got really nervous, went back to Judge Kaplan, and said, “We can’t let this guy Donziger work on the case.” Kaplan, then, without a jury, gave them millions of dollars of court costs from me. He ordered me to pay. I’m a human rights guy working out of a two-bedroom apartment, they make 250 billion a year as an oil company, but he ordered me to pay their legal fees, millions and millions of dollars.
– For 60 law firms.
– Exactly. I didn’t have that kind of money, obviously, so he let them freeze my bank accounts. I didn’t have a ton of money, but like we were living off this money that we were raising to fund the litigation. At that point, so they froze my bank accounts, and they claimed that I had probably hidden money away somewhere, which was preposterous, and they knew it. But what that allowed them to do is try to get my electronic devices, my computer, my cell phone, ’cause they wanted to examine them to see if I had hidden bank accounts and whatnot. And that obviously implicates my ethical obligations to my clients. It violates attorney-client privilege. I mean, all sorts of privileges that are just vital to the functioning of any lawyer in the world. And so, I asked Judge Kaplan, I said, “Please hold me in civil contempt. I cannot do this without appealing it first to the federal appellate court here in New York. Judge Kaplan refused to hold me in civil contempt. I couldn’t get a direct appeal. This went on for months and months and months while Chevron was bombarding me with discovery requests, and trying to-
– Why did you want to be held in civil contempt? You mean as opposed to criminal contempt?
– No; in other words, it was just a tactical maneuver to get a direct appeal on what I thought was an unlawful order that I turn over my confidential case file to Chevron. I had no way to get to the appellate court without him first holding me in civil contempt. So Bobby, this is a typical way lawyers deal with these types of issues: they ask to be held in contempt. And then, if the appellate court rules in their favor, it goes away. And if they lose at the appellate court, they then comply with the order, which was my intention. I’m the only person in US history who has ever been held or charged with criminal contempt for doing what I did, which was the normal, what the courts call the well-trodden path to get up to the appellate court about a significant discovery dispute. What Judge Kaplan did, that has never been done before, is after I had appealed, he finally held me in civil contempt per my request. I filed for my appeal the next day. And a few weeks later, I hadn’t even written my brief yet, he charged me with criminal contempt for not complying with the order that I had challenged on appeal, and had me locked up. And this was on August 6th, 2019. Now, let me explain what this means. He charged me with a misdemeanor, meaning the maximum sentence if I get convicted is six months in prison. I believe I’m totally innocent, but maybe we’ll assume it’s legit and I get convicted. Okay? I’ve already served 590 days at home on a charge with a maximum sentence of 180 days in prison. And I have not had a trial yet. I am the only person in the United States charged with a misdemeanor at the federal level who has no criminal record, who’s even been held one day pretrial. And again, I’ve been held 590 days. And the third interesting fact is the longest sentence ever imposed on a lawyer in New York convicted of criminal contempt, Bruce Cutler, you might remember him.
– [Robert] Yeah.
– It was in 1994. Was 90 days of home confinement. So, why am I still in home confinement when I’ve served the maximum sentence already many times over? And I believe what’s really driving this is Chevron and interests in the federal judiciary that really want to attack the idea of human rights and environmental justice litigation, at least the successful kind. And one other additional shocking point. When a judge charges someone with criminal contempt, it’s unusual, right? Criminal charges come out of prosecutorial offices, not out of the judiciary. It’s our separation of powers in the American system. The executive branch charges and prosecutes crimes, judges oversee the courtroom, and the legislative branch defines what the… The statute defines what the crime is. So when a judge charges a crime, it’s highly unusual. It can only happen under very rare circumstances. And when he or she does it, they’re required by law to take it first to the US attorney, the federal prosecutor, to pursue. And in this case, the federal prosecutor turned down Judge Kaplan. They declined to prosecute me for I think obvious reasons. When that failed, rather than let it sit, Judge Kaplan appointed a private law firm, Seward & Kissel, to prosecute me in the name of the government. When I showed up in court the very first day, they had me locked up. And I’m thinking, “What the heck am I being prosecuted by a private law firm?” And this is the kicker. We started researching Seward & Kissel’s client base, and they have extensive clients in the oil and gas industry. And it turns out, and they admitted seven months after I’d been locked up in my home, that Chevron had been a client as recently as 2018, that one of their biggest clients was a company called Oaktree Capital, which is $120 billion fund that finances a lot of oil and gas deals. Oaktree has two executives on Chevron’s board of directors. The financial links between my prosecutor and Chevron, and other Chevron-related entities, are extensive, comprehensive. And our ethics expert Ellen Yaroshefsky said, “They can’t prosecute you; it’s illegal. They have to be disinterested. And they have an interest in your destruction, because of all their oil and gas ties, including their ties to Chevron.” So, essentially, if you reduce this to it’s basic nugget of whatever, the rub here is I am the first person in America ever prosecuted by a corporation via its law firm. And the government, through Judge Kaplan, essentially gave big oil the power to prosecute its biggest critic. And they’ve locked me up, and they’ve deprived me of my liberty. And they’re a private law firm, they’re not even a governmental prosecutor. And that’s my situation. Listen, it’s shocking and, I’m not gonna lie, it’s scary. I have a wife and a 14-year-old son. I have a trial scheduled for May 10th. Again, they’re denying me a jury. I feel like I’m being punished for doing my job effectively as a lawyer on behalf of the people, Bobby, that you met back in the late ’80s when you were down in Ecuador. So, I’ve calculated that the only way I can stop this, really, there’s a couple of ways. One is people need to pay attention and complain. There needs to be a major public outcry. And two is we have asked, or several human rights groups, like Amnesty International and others, have asked Merrick Garland, the new attorney general, to step in and take the case away from this private Chevron law firm and prosecute me directly out of the Department of Justice. At which point, I believe they’ll either dismiss the case, or it will be handled professionally such that I won’t have to be locked up. So, the real ask now is for the DOJ to take the case back from the private Chevron law firm, so I could be prosecuted by a disinterested professional prosecutor, not a Chevron-paid prosecutor.
– Well, you have a tremendous amount of support in the human rights community and from environmental groups, including Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network, Waterkeeper Alliance. I think you have 10 or more Nobel Prize winners who have written in your support. What can people who are listening to this podcast, what can they do to help Steven Donziger?
– Thank you. So people who want to help, please go to our website. It’s called Free Donziger. F-R-E-E-D-O-N-Z-I-G-E-R, all together, dot, org. And you can sign up for our campaign, and you can also donate money to my defense fund on that website. And I want to talk a little bit about support that I need, if I can. First, I recognize times are difficult for many people, and we want you involved whether you can support financially or not, but if you can donate even a little bit. We have literally thousands of small donors who have helped me. And we raised money to pay lawyers, to pay expenses, and to pay my household expenses, so my wife, son, and I can survive this, given that I can’t get paid anymore since I was disbarred, by the way, based entirely on Judge Kaplan’s erroneous findings, based on Chevron’s paid witnesses. I never had a hearing where I was allowed to challenge Judge Kaplan’s findings. So, Judge Kaplan not only ruled against me in the RICO case, it was also that decision was transferred into the bar grievance process to suspend my law license. I’m challenging that, by the way. I have a case now before the New York Court of Appeals. But it’s a very dangerous day for any lawyer when a finding of civil fraud by a sole judge without a jury is used as a basis to take away someone’s law license. Again, it’s just another kind of aspect to this case that’s irregular. You just don’t see this. So, there almost seems to be like an exception for me on almost every level of the law. I mean, I’m the first person ever sued under civil RICO who never got a jury, first person in the country. I’m the first person in New York disbarred without a hearing based on a civil fraud charge with no jury, as opposed to a criminal finding which is beyond a reasonable doubt. I’m the first person held pretrial on a misdemeanor, at home, for even 1 day, much less 600 days. Time after time, the courts here seem to make exceptions to the law in order to help Chevron target me. And it’s shocking to me. One thing, look, you know when you sue Chevron, it’s not going to be easy street. I mean, you know they’re going to fight you, right? But what I never anticipated is the extent to which the judiciary, or federal judiciary, or at least elements of it could be so captured by a private oil company so they would be twisted into serving the interests of that company, as has happened with Judge Kaplan. And look, I respect the rule of law, I respect the courts. I’ve been litigating in court now for 27 years on this case, and I’ve done a lot of other cases. I’m a law guy. But what’s happening to me is not rule of law stuff. It’s very irregular, creepy kinds of things that people who are human rights observers are used to seeing in countries like Turkey or Saudi Arabia, Russia. They’re not used to seeing that in the United States of America. And also I want to say this: this goes way beyond me, right? I mean, this is not about Steven Donziger, ultimately. It’s really about the effort by the fossil fuel industry writ large to intimidate human rights lawyers. I mean, that’s what this is really about. They want to hold me up as an example so young lawyers, law students, others, nonprofits, NGOs, do not do what we have done, which is build a really successful multi-billion dollar lawsuit against a big oil company. It challenges their business model, it challenges their way of doing business, it challenges their money, and it challenges their whole approach to getting away with pollution. And what Chevron did in Ecuador, I mean, they privatized the profits, socialized the costs, put them on the backs of some of these vulnerable indigenous communities. The pollution is still there, so they expect the people who live there to pick up the tab for pollution Chevron caused. No. And this lawsuit was about correcting that injustice. And instead of paying the judgment that it lost legitimately as a firm by multiple courts, they have spent literally billions of dollars going after me and other people. That’s not right. That’s an abuse of the legal system.
– Yeah, it’s classic crony capitalism. It’s capturing, as you say, the judiciary to engineer the system of socialism for the rich, the oil industry, in this very kind of savage, barbaric, merciless capitalism, and really feudalism for the rest of us. But I’m curious about one thing. Usually when you lose your law license, there’s some involvement from the bar. And I cannot believe that the New York Bar Association would have anything to do with this.
– Well, so… Every state has its own procedures for law licensing and lawyer discipline. In New York where I live, in Manhattan, there’s something called the Manhattan Bar Grievance Committee. And several judges who work with Judge Kaplan referred me to the grievance committee based on Judge Kaplan’s findings. And they were all his long-time colleagues on the bench. And they told the Bar Grievance Committee that they should apply collateral estoppel against me, which basically means I couldn’t challenge Judge Kaplan’s false findings of fact that had already been contradicted by courts in Ecuador, the highest court in Ecuador, the highest court in Canada. And I’m like, “You gotta be kidding me.” Why would judges who are obligated to uphold the rule of law, uphold due process of law, be suggesting to the Bar Grievance Committee that I can’t have a hearing? And they ended up suspending me without a hearing based on the statute in New York that allows a lawyer to be suspended if he or she is determined, without a hearing, to be an immediate threat to the public order. I was determined, because I won this case against Chevron, to be an immediate threat to the public order. So when I got suspended, I still insisted on what’s called a post-suspension hearing. They still wouldn’t let me challenge Judge Kaplan. So, I brought in a bunch of witnesses who could talk about my integrity. I mean, prominent people, prominent lawyers. And the neutral hearing officer, a gentleman by the name of John Horan, who’s a longtime New York lawyer, ruled in my favor and recommended that my bar license be reinstated in a 45-page decision. And the Bar Grievance Committee, which is under I think the heavy influence of the corporate law firms in town, appealed that in the New York Appellate Court, the intermediate appellate court, without even giving me a hearing in a two-page conclusory opinion, overturned his 45-page considered decision suggesting my law license be returned. So, they basically nullified my whole hearing where the only person to hear the evidence ruled in my favor. And we’ve appealed that to the New York Court of Appeals. Well, we’ve asked them to let me appeal it. We filed a motion for leave to appeal, and it’s been sitting up there since September of last year. They haven’t ruled on it, so the issue isn’t over. I still have a law license in Washington, DC, although it’s suspended based on the decision in New York as a matter of reciprocal discipline. But the larger point is I got my law license suspended based on this non-jury civil RICO case that has been discredited. So that again is another bizarre feature of these Chevron-orchestrated attacks on me, not just through the federal judiciary, but also through the bar process. Think about this, Robert. Remember Rudy Giuliani, who’s a lawyer in New York, made that speech at Trump’s rally just prior to the invasion of the US Capitol on January 6th.
– Like let’s go down there and knock some heads around. And there’s a bar complaint against him signed by hundreds of lawyers, it’s 53 pages, and they haven’t done anything. I mean, they never suspended him as a threat to the public order, even though he basically incited a mob riot in the US Capitol. And there’s a real disparity in treatment between people who fight for human rights and people who represent corporate interests, in my view, when it comes to the bar grievance process in New York. And it really needs to be corrected.
– As attorneys, we’re prohibited from criticizing judges, people who are on the bench. And there are sanctions if you do that that are available if we publicly disparage them. But you must have spent a lot of time thinking about, and perhaps investigating about why Judge Lewis Kaplan would be so sympathetic. Do you think it’s ideological, or is there something more than that?
– I don’t know. I mean, I’ve asked myself that a lot. And I want to be clear: I’ve always treated Judge Kaplan with respect. I’ve advocated in his courtroom for years. I’ve been there dozens of times, and I’ve always been respectful toward him, personally, even though I do believe that he is making decisions that, to me, are not proper. So, you know, I think he ideologically is very sympathetic to big corporations. Prior to being named to the bench, he represented Brown & Williamson in tobacco litigation at a big corporate law firm as a defense counsel.
– I think that’s Lewis Powell’s firm, who kind of led the jump for the right wing corporate ideology.
– Yeah, that famous memo by Lewis Powell. Yeah. So, I don’t know what it is. I mean, every time we try to get information-
– Who appointed him?
– [Steven] Bill Clinton; and I mean-
– So, he was a Democrat? He was a liberal Democrat or…?
– No, I mean, look, if you go back to the first Clinton years, I mean, Clinton was triangulating. Judge Kaplan has issued some decent decisions on issues of civil liberties. Yeah, I mean, it’s all mixed, but when it comes to like corporations and human rights lawyering, he seems to be all in on the side of the corporation. I mean, just ’cause a judge is appointed by a Democrat, or at least with Bill Clinton, doesn’t necessarily mean they have Bill Clinton’s philosophy about human rights or civil rights, or whatever it may be. In this case, I think Judge Kaplan just brings to the bench a certain view of how his job should be. And I think he jumped all over the Ecuador case. I mean, I think it was just bizarre. I mean, he ruled that… Again, based on this paid Chevron witness, he ruled that Ecuador’s entire judicial system didn’t meet basic standards of due process. I mean, who does that? And I’ll say this. Think about this- Go ahead.
– This is after the court of appeals in the Southern District declared, and Exxon argued, that it was a great judicial system and that they could handle this case, and that they were honest, and that they had rule of law, and that they were sophisticated enough to handle this case; and had it transferred from the Southern District to Ecuador at their request.
– That’s exactly right. It was in Ecuador because Chevron praised Ecuador’s court system in 14 sworn affidavits. You read these affidavits, you’d think it was like the best court system in the world. But it was only when we took them up on their word, went down there, litigated, put in the evidence, started to win, that suddenly that court system wasn’t to their liking and they started to attack it. Think about this: they came back to the court that we originally filed the underlying lawsuit, but they would never do the lawsuit in the US to avoid a jury. They want it in Ecuador. We go to Ecuador, we start winning; they, then, come back to our original venue, and say, “Oh, now we actually do want to be here, because we were given a raw deal in Ecuador. Help us, Judge Kaplan, attack the entire Ecuador judicial system,” which is what he did, without a jury. And think about it. I mean, just think about what this means. You have a first level trial court, the lowest court in the federal system, in New York, essentially ruling in a way that tries to overturn a Supreme Court decision from another sovereign nation. That’s what he did. Can you imagine if a trial judge in Ecuador tried to overturn a US Supreme Court decision, like how people would laugh at that? And what’s amazing to me is when a US judge does it, there was people, I mean, colleagues who were like, “Oh, Judge Kaplan ruled; I’m so sorry.” I’m like, “Have you heard about the 29 other judges?” I mean, there’s people who give more credibility to one US judge than the collective credibility of 29 appellate judges in Ecuador and Canada, including the entire Supreme Courts of both countries. Go figure. Think about that.
– You’ve given us a lot to think about, Steven.
– You read like… Michael Krauss is a law professor at Chevron-funded Scalia Law School at George Mason University. And he writes these blogs on “Forbes”, I mean, I think Chevron probably pays them, but they’re totally pro-Chevron about me. And all he can talk about is Judge Kaplan, never mentions the Supreme Court of Ecuador, the Supreme Court of Canada; never mentions the fact that Chevron relied on paid witness testimony; never mentions the fact that Judge Kaplan wouldn’t look at the evidence in Ecuador. I mean, if you don’t know any better and you read their story, it looks credible. But once you really learn how this really went down, I find most people are just shocked.
– Yeah, I’m shocked. I’m shocked. As cynical as I am about the institutions of government, and about agency capture, and about the power of the oil industry over American democracy, I really never thought that I would see anything like this in the United States of America. This is something that you see in a banana republic. You know, in Venezuela or the Dominican Republic, back in the ’50s where everything is up for grabs and it’s not a judicial system. Steven Donziger, as I told your son Matt, you are to me as much a hero as any of the people who sacrificed their lives in forging the American Revolution. You are standing up for principle. You have endured tremendous personal sacrifices that you deserve just the opposite. We ought to be building a statue to you rather than locking you in your apartment with an ankle bracelet. I’m gonna send you a thousand dollar check to Free Donziger, is that it?
– Thank you, Bobby. It’s FreeDonziger.org.
– Okay. I wanted you to use this for personal reasons, to supplement your income and get a good birthday present for Matt. And I hope that other people who are listening to this will also… Do what you can and send a couple of bucks to Steven. And tell us again exactly how they do it. They go to FreeDonziger.org.
– So, go to the website; it’s called Free Donziger. My name is F-R-E-E-D-O-N-Z-I-G-E-R, dot, org. There’s a Donate button right when you get to the page. There’s a lot of information beyond the information I’ve given out today. And you can click on the Donate button, then you can donate whatever amount you feel comfortable. If you don’t want to donate, click anyway and join the campaign. There’s a sign up. And we’re trying to build out our base of support. We have 25,000-plus names already. And every couple of weeks, or sometimes more often, I’ll send around an update on what’s happening with the case. A key date to remember is May 10th, that’s the date of my trial, my non-jury trial. And I have a good legal team. We’re going to go in there and do the best we can under difficult circumstances, but it’s very important that people bear witness to that trial. And if you’re around New York and want to attend it, we’ll let you know how you can do that. But even if you can’t attend, or don’t live in New York, you can listen into the trial via Zoom. It’s going to be broadcast. Because of Covid, that’s kind of a thing that’s been going on now in the federal courts. So, we want… Yeah, that’s it. FreeDonziger.org. And we want as many people as possible to bear witness. And I’ll also say this. I tweet a fair amount about the case on my Twitter feed. It’s @SDonziger. So if you can, follow me on Twitter, and also I’m on Instagram. I’m kind of an older guy, and I’m sort of getting used to social media. But I use Twitter a fair amount, so check out my feed and you’ll get a lot more information about the case and really daily updates.
– Yeah, I was… Okay. I was an older guy getting used to social media, too, and then they solved my problem by throwing me off of it altogether. But we would love to livestream your trial on The Defender. So, why don’t we talk afterwards about how we can do that, how we might be able to do that? And we’d like to continue to support you in every way that we can, Steven. And thank you for fighting for the poorest of the poor against these totalitarian petroleum tyrants. Thank you.
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