The latest indictment by the US judiciary is to imprison the David to Chevron’s Goliath. This move is designed to protect capitalist interests.
Judge Loretta Preska was an advisor to the conservative Federalist Society to which Chevron has been a major donor. She sentenced Steven Donziger, a human rights lawyer and Chevron nemesis, to six months imprisonment for misdemeanor in contempt of court. He had previously spent 787 days in New York under house arrest.
Harvard Law School graduate Donziger has been fighting for Ecuadorian indigenous communities and peasant farmers against the polluting American oil corporations for almost three decades.
Preska’s caustic outbursts at sentencing–she said, “It appears that only the proverbial 2-by-4 between the eyes will instill any respect in him for the law.”–capped a judicial farce worthy to be compared with the antics Vasiliy Vasilievich (the presiding judge at major show trials in the Soviet Union) and Roland Freisler, the Nazi judge who once shouted at defendants, “You really are a piece of trash!”
Harvard Law School graduate Donziger has been fighting for Ecuadorian indigenous communities and peasant farmers for almost three decades against the polluting American oil corporations. In 2011, Chevron won a $9.5billion judgment against him. This was in the name of thousands of plaintiffs. After the oil giant bought Texaco’s Ecuador oil company holdings, it was left with a lawsuit alleging that 16 billion gallons toxic waste were deliberately released from its oil sites into groundwater, rivers, and farmland. Chevron has pursued him since the verdict and used litigation to discredit him personally, professionally, as well as economically.
Donziger had petitioned the court for an opinion from the United Nations human right council, which found Donziger’s house arrest to be a violation international human rights law. According to the U.N human right council, his house arrest was considered detention under international law. Judge Preska could therefore not demand six more months in prison. Amnesty International called for Donziger to be released immediately.
Donziger and his attorneys have two weeks to appeal against the judge’s order that Donziger should be immediately sent to jail. Preska refused Donziger bail, claiming that he was a flight risk. Donziger will be in jail for six months if the Federal Court of Appeals rejects his appeal. Donziger and his attorneys are not unaware of the irony. While Preska’s decision may be overturned by the higher court, Donziger could have spent six months in jail.
Donziger said to me on Monday that Judge Preska wanted to make me serve all of my sentence before an appellate court could rule. “If the appellate courts rules in my favor I will still have served the sentence, even though I am innocent under the law.”
His lawyers claim that Donziger is the first American to be charged under U.S. Law with a “B” misdemeanor and placed in home confinement. He is the first person to be placed in home confinement for more than two years after being charged with any misdemeanor. He is the first person to be charged for criminal contempt in relation to a discovery dispute in civil cases where the attorney entered voluntary contempt to appeal. He is the first to be tried under Rule 42 (criminal disobedience) by a private prosecution with financial ties the industry and entity that were litigants in the civil dispute that gave birth to the orders. He was the first private prosecutor to have ex parte communications with a charging judge, while the criminal case was pending.
Donziger stated to the court that no New York lawyer for my level has ever served more than 90 day in New York. That was in home confinement. “I have been in home confinement eight more times than that.” I was disbarred without a hearing because I was unable present factual evidence. I cannot therefore earn an income from my profession. I do not have a passport. I cannot travel; I can’t perform human rights work in the normal way that I think I’m reasonably skilled at. I also can’t see my clients in Ecuador. I can’t visit affected communities to learn the latest about cancer deaths and how they are coping with oil pollution. It is also little known that Judge [Lewis A.] Kaplan has fined me millions to millions of dollars and imposed court costs. [Kaplan is the judge in Chevron’s lawsuit against Donziger. Preska is his hand-picked judge for contempt charges. He ordered me to pay Chevron millions of dollars to cover their legal costs in attacking me. Then he allowed Chevron into my bank accounts to take all my savings. Chevron has an pending motion to require me to pay $32 million in additional legal fees. Here’s the current situation. Humbly, I ask: Would that be enough punishment for a Class A misdemeanor?
Judge Preska was not moved.
Preska stated that Mr. Donziger spent seven years pointing his nose at U.S. judicial systems. “Now it is time to pay the piper.”
These corporate judges, which embody what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil”, now routinely wage war on workers, civil liberty, unions, environmental regulations, and workers.
The judge allowed a maximum six-month sentence. She ruled that house arrest could not be considered as part of his detention. This has been a complete burlesque from start to finish. This is a perfect example of a court system that has been handed over to corporate power-hungry lawyers who use the veneers of jurisprudence and decorum to mock the rule of law.
Judges become enforcers for injustice when the law is broken. These corporate judges, which embody what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil”, routinely wage war on workers, civil liberties and environmental regulations.
Preska sent Jeremy Hammond, a hacker who hacked into computers of a private security company that works for the government and corporations like Dow Chemical, to prison for a decade. Hammond gave WikiLeaks, Rolling Stone, and other publications three million emails from Texas-based Strategic Forecasting Inc. (or Stratfor) in 2011. This sentence was the longest ever in American history for hacking, and it was the maximum Preska could impose as part of a plea deal in the case. I was present at the Hammond trial. I watched Preska spout her bile at Hammond and show contempt from the bench, with the same vitriol that she used to attack Donziger.
Preska is also well-known for her lengthy judicial crusade for New York’s public schools to grant tax-subsidized space to evangelical churches. This was based on an illogical reading of the Constitution.
Donziger’s persecution fits into a familiar pattern for millions of poor Americans, who are forced to accept plea deals for many crimes they didn’t commit and sent to prison for decades. It is similar to the pattern of judicial lynchings and long-term psychological torture of Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange. It matches the pattern of those who were denied habeas corpus or due process at Guantanamo bay or in CIA black spots. It matches the pattern of terrorist law-addicted persons, many of whom are held at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan and cannot see the evidence used in their indictment. It is consistent with the widespread use and restriction of communication between prisoners, lawyers, families, media, and others outside of the prison. It is a form psychological torture that refines torture as science. The “terrorist” is no longer able to defend himself or his mental and psychological faculties when he or she is brought into our secretive courts. They can and will do this legal to the demonized. The Donziger case is a warning sign that the American legal system has failed.
Ralph Nader, a Harvard Law School graduate, has long condemned the corporate control of the courts and law school systems. He called the nation’s lawyers and judges “lucrative cogs” in the corporate wheel. He points out that law school curriculums have been “built around corporate legal, corporate power, corporate perpetration and corporate defense.”
Victor Klemperer was fired from his position as professor of Romance languages at University of Dresden in 1935 due to his Jewish heritage. He shrewdly observed how the Nazis initially “changed the value, frequency of words [and] made them common property, words that were previously used by individuals or small troupes.” They took words, saturated words and phrases with their poison, and created sentence forms. They turned language into a tool to serve their horrible system. They conquered words, making them their most powerful advertising tools [Werebemittle], which was simultaneously the most secretive and public. Klemperer pointed out that the public was unaware of the redefinition and evolution of old concepts.
Klemperer saw this redefinition of concepts and words during fascism’s rise, which allowed courts to make the law an instrument of injustice. We were then stripped of our rights through judicial fiat. Citizens United has allowed unlimited dark money to political campaigns, protecting our money-saturated elections and our right to petition government. The courts have taken away our privacy rights and authorized government surveillance for national security. While corporations have the same rights as individuals, the courts rarely hold corporate leaders accountable for their crimes.
Few of the corporate-friendly legal decisions have widespread support. Christian fascists are gaining more support for the corporate disembowelment of the country. They focus their energy around abortion, prayer at schools, guns, and breaking down the separation between church and state. These issues are seldom addressed by federal courts. These issues distract from the pro-corporate rulings dominating most court dockets.
Tyson Foods and Purdue, Walmart and Sam’s Warehouse, have invested millions in institutions that indoctrinate Christian fascists like Liberty University and Patrick Henry Law School. They also fund the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Judicial Crisis Network, which fought for Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Barrett is against abortion and is a member of People of Praise, an extreme-right Catholic cult which practices “speaking in languages.” She is opposed to LGBTQ rights, as are the other far-right ideologues. However, corporations love her because she doesn’t care about abortion, LGBTQ equality, or gun rights.
Barrett and Christian fascists believe that God will provide for the righteous. People who are poor, sick, or in prison are those who have failed to please God. This worldview does not require unions, universal healthcare, or prison reform. Barrett has consistently ruled in favor of corporations that cheat gig workers outof overtime, encourage fossil fuel extraction and pollution, and remove consumers from protection against corporate fraud. Accountable.US, a watchdog group, found that Barrett was a circuit court judge and had “taken on at least 55 cases where citizens brought against corporate entities in front her court. 76% of the times she sided for the corporations.”
Trump’s administration granted nearly 200 lifetime appointments to federal judges, approximately 23 percent, thanks to Christian fascists and organizations like the Federalist Society. This included 53 appointments to the nation’s appellate court, which is the court directly under the Supreme Court. Many of these appointments were rated unqualified by the American Bar Association, which is the largest non-partisan coalition of lawyers in America. Six Federalist Society Supreme Court justices are currently serving, including Amy Coney Barrett and Neil Gorsuch. Brett Kavanaugh is Nader’s definition of “a corporation masquerading itself as a human being”. Joe Biden supported two Federalist Society Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas (who was an original faculty advisor of the 1982 conservative-leaning organization), and Antonin Scalia (who was the late Antonin Scalia).
Trump was not the first to stack the courts with corporate puppets. Both Democratic and Republican administrations carried it out. G.W. Bush appointed Preska to the post of Republican President. Bush. The Democratic President Clinton appointed Judge Lewis A. Kaplan to replace Preska in the Donziger Case. He was a former tobacco industry lawyer who made undisclosed investments with Chevron funds, according his public financial disclosure statement.
One of President Nixon’s key goals was to target the courts. Powell’s 1971 memo sent to the Chamber of Commerce outlined the plan for the slow-motion corporate coup. He called on business interests and other corporate-friendly members to fill the judiciary.
In all tyrannies, the courts are dominated and ruled by mediocrities. They compensate for their intellectual and moral inequalities by submitting to the will of the people. They make courtroom trials into opera buffa until the victim is tied up and taken to prison. They shout obscenities at the condemned, whose sentence has never been questioned and whose guilt is never in doubt.
Donziger explained to me that it all started in 1960 when Texaco entered Ecuador in the Amazon and made a sweetheart agreement with Ecuador’s military government. He also wrote a column about his case a full year ago. Over the next 25-years, Texaco became the sole operator of a large area of Amazon with several oil fields. It covered 1500 miles. They drilled hundreds upon hundreds of wells. They dumped all the heavy metals and toxic substances that had risen from the ground in thousands of open-air, unlined toxic dump pits. The pipes were connected to rivers and streams by the workers. This pristine ecosystem was home to five indigenous peoples and many other rural non-indigenous communities. It was an industrial mass poisoning.
Donziger said that the verdict was $18 billion in favour of the affected communities. This is the minimum amount necessary to repair the damage and compensate people for their injuries. It was reduced to $9.5 billion on appeal in Ecuador, but it was upheld by three appellate courts, the highest court in Ecuador. The Canadian Supreme Court affirmed it. In 2015, the Ecuadorians sought to enforce their decision in a unanimous opinion.
All those who challenge corporate power or the national security state’s authority will be executed. There will be no mercy because justice is not available.
Chevron quickly sold its assets and fled Ecuador. It refused to pay the fees for cleaning up its environmental damages. Danziger was destroyed by the company, which spent an estimated $2million. Chevron sued Danziger, using the civil courts section of federal law known for breaking the New York mafia in 1970s, Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act. According to court documents, Chevron has hired more than 2,000 lawyers from 60 law offices to help it carry out its campaign. The oil giant decided not to have a jury hear the case and instead demanded financial damages. This would have allowed Donziger the right to ask for a jury trial. Judge Kaplan was able to decide the RICO case against Donziger. Alberto Guerra, an Ecuadorian Judge, was credible. He was relocated by Chevron to the USA at a cost approximately $2 million. Guerra claimed that the Ecuador verdict was the result of a bribe. Kaplan used Guerra’s testimony to support the racketeering charges, but Guerra, who was a former judge, later admitted that he had falsified it.
John Keker, a San Francisco lawyer representing Donziger, stated that he was up against 160 Chevron lawyers and felt “like a goat tied to a stake” during the trial. Kaplan’s court proceedings were called a “Dickensian farce” by Keker. He also called them a “show trial.”
Kaplan ultimately ruled that Chevron’s Ecuadorean court judgment against it was fraudulent. Kaplan also ordered Donziger’s handing over of decades of client communications to Chevron. This effectively erased attorney-client privilege. It is an integral part of the Anglo American legal system whose roots date back to ancient Rome. According to legal experts, Donziger appealed the unprecedented and illegal order. Kaplan brought Donziger to court for misdemeanor criminal contempt. He was sentenced to a maximum of six months in prison. After five years of refusing to pursue Donziger’s criminal contempt charges against him, the U.S. Attorney’s Office decided to charge Kaplan with misdemeanor criminal contempt. This was an unusual judicial maneuver that allowed the private law firm Seward & Kissel to represent the government in Donziger’s prosecution. Neither the judge nor Seward & Kissel disclosed that Chevron was a client.
Kaplan also broke the established random case assignment protocol by personally assigning Preska, who was a member of an advisory board at the Federalist Society to which Chevron has donated lavishly, the case. Kaplan demanded Donziger post a $800,000 bond for the misdemeanor case. Preska placed Donziger under house arrest and took his passport. He has since used it to meet with lawyers around the globe who are trying to enforce the Chevron judgment. Kaplan was able to disbar Donziger. Chevron was able to block Donziger’s bank account and he put Donziger under a ankle monitor 24 hours per day. This effectively stopped Donziger from earning a living. Kaplan permitted Chevron to place a lien on Donziger’s Manhattan apartment where he lives together with his teenage son and wife.
This would not surprise anyone who was subject to the tyrannies in the past. It would surprise many Americans to see how far our corporate tyranny has advanced. Donziger was never given a chance. Julian Assange is also not in the running. In the end, these judges aren’t focused on Assange or Donziger, but rather on us. They are expected to be impartial in the show trials they oversee. They are intended to convey a message. All those who challenge corporate power or the national security state’s authority will be executed. There will be no mercy because justice is not available.