- Samantha Winters
Steven Donziger: The Fight for Environmental Justice
For the past two years, Steven Donziger has been on house arrest, but this story starts in 1993. Two years after graduating from Harvard Law, Steven was asked by the Amazon Defense Coalition to protect the Amazon and take on Chevron (then Texaco). For many years Chevron had been dumping oil in the Water causing many of the local people in Ecuador to develop serious health conditions. In the years prior, Chevron had agreed to clean up the area that they had been polluting, but by 1993 this still had not happened.
In 1993 Donziger started his class-action lawsuit against Chevron. Along with other lawyers, Donziger represented 30,000 Ecuadorian people. After many years of litigation, in 2011 the people of Ecuador won their case and Texaco was ordered to pay 9.5 billion dollars in reparations. As of today October 8, 2021, Chevron has still not paid. After the case was over in 2011 Chevron filed a countersuit against Steven personally. He was accused of bribing a federal judge, tampering with witnesses, and falsifying scientific evidence. Judge Kaplan found Donziger guilty of the charges, and the appeal for this case was dismissed.
While filing for an appeal, Steven was ordered to turn over his computer and cell phone to the court. However, he refused. He stated that this would violate client-attorney privilege. When he did this, Judge Kaplan charged him with contempt of court and ordered that he be put on house arrest. While serving his house arrest, news surfaced that Judge Kaplan had connections to Chevron, which posed a conflict of interest, so a new judge was appointed to the case. However, Kaplan was able to choose the latest judge to preside, and he chose Judge Preska, who had similar ties to Chevron.
Due to changes in legal council, a worldwide pandemic, and stall tactics from both Judges, Donziger’s house arrest lasted 785 days before he was even sentenced. During his house arrest, he has served four times the maximum sentence for his crime. With that being said, Friday, October 1, Steven was sentenced to six months in prison for contempt of court by Judge Loretta Preska. Steven must now leave his wife Laura and teenage son Matthew to serve even more time than he already has.
As his house arrest continued, Steven has reached out to numerous newspapers, politicians, and any celebrity connections that he may have. He and his family started a Free Donziger campaign, and his efforts have not gone unnoticed. The United Nations and Amnesty International have called his house arrest unconstitutional and a violation of human rights, but unfortunately, this did not change Judge Preska’s mind.
Throughout this entire legal case, Steven’s only goal has been to stand up to environmental injustices and allow the people of Ecuador to have clean Water. Judge Preska, Judge Kaplan, and Chevron have attempted to make an example out of Steven and other environmental activists, but their plan failed. Facing adversity, Donziger stood up for environmental justice, and many rallied behind him. His social media accounts became a place of collective action and brought people together to continue this fight, and the fight does not end here. The Ecuadorian people are still left without clean Water and reparations.
Looking forward, the ruling from Judge Preska may set a future precedent for activists that go against big oil. This case showcases a pattern of protecting big oil companies’ reputations at the expense of people’s health. This issue is not unique to the Ecuadorian people; this is a worldwide battle. Oil is seeping into Water supplies all over the world and we have to speak out against it.
At Water& we believe that clean Water is a human right. Clean water is currently a privilege, and we say NO to companies like Chevron that show us otherwise.