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Under Pressure: How Steven Donziger uses pressure, intimidation and humiliation to silence his critics

Date: Oct 31, 2014

In outtakes from the movie Crude, Steven Donziger, the U.S. lawyer behind the lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador, was caught on tape saying: “The only language, I believe this judge is gonna understand is one of pressure, intimidation and humiliation.” It is evident that Donziger and his team have extended these tactics to include anyone who dissents or seeks to reveal the truth about his fraudulent, extortion scheme against Chevron.

In another outtake Donziger is caught talking about a judge fearing for his life if he rules against them, saying he “might not be [killed], but he’ll think – he thinks he will be . . . which is just as good’.”

What started out as a campaign of “pressure, intimidation and humiliation” in Ecuador has gone global. Donziger and his allies are now running a multinational smear campaign against journalists, judges, human rights experts, women’s rights groups, and anyone else that speaks the truth in this case.

Joe Nocera, of the New York Times, recently described Donziger’s tactics saying, “With every critic, Donziger and his allies have replied in the same way: The critics have been corrupted by the evil Chevron.”

From the minute Chevron began producing evidence, facts, and witnesses to expose his fraudulent lawsuit against the company, Donziger and his team have attempted to use “pressure, intimidation, and humiliation” to attack critics or attempt to impugn their reputation.

Against Chevron…

From the beginning, Donziger and his team tried to create enough public pressure on Chevron that the company would simply choose to settle. In a memo dated August 16, 2004, one of Donziger’s consultants outlined the strategy this way: “Bringing ChevronTexaco to the negotiation table by inflicting economic pain on the company.” The memo went on to outline five different initiatives: new legal activity to drum up press coverage, aggressive and sustained shareholder activity, engagement with members of Congress, the formation of a comprehensive coalition of allies, and the generation of more press attention.

Against Reporters…

Donziger and his team have also, on several occasions, attempted to intimidate, pressure, and humiliate members of the media. Targeted reporters include Paul Barrett of Businessweek, Roger Parloff of Fortune, and Michael Goldhaber of American Lawyer. Each has covered the Chevron-Ecuador legal story for years, and all have reviewed the same evidence. As a result, the reporters wrote the facts, and covered this year’s RICO trial where Donziger was found liable of fraud and racketeering. Still, Donziger and his spokesperson, Karen Hinton, have attacked all three personally and professionally.  For example, in September of this year, they used an activist group that they have funded to post a smear against them titled, “Business journalists rush to rescue Chevron from its Ecuador disaster.”

Against Women’s Rights Groups…

Legal Momentum, the nation’s oldest legal defense and education fund dedicated to advancing the rights of women and girls, also became a victim of Donziger’s smear campaign. The organization filed an amicus brief in support of a particular aspect of the law under question in Donziger’s appeal of the racketeering case against him. As a result, Donziger and his team issued a barrage of press releases and blog posts accusing the group of writing the brief in exchange for payment from Chevron – a claim that has no merit or evidence to support it. Their strategy backfired when one legal blogger called their bullying “the sleaziest PR of the week” and Paul Barrett of Businessweek stated, “Lawyers who have been found liable of nefarious corruption, as Donziger has, ought to be cautious about accusing foes of nefarious corruption.”

Against U.S. Judges…

Donziger and his team have repeatedly employed the “pressure, humiliation and intimidation” strategy against judges not just in Ecuador, but in the U.S. as well. Prior to, and during the racketeering trial against him, Donziger and his team launched a legal and public relations offensive assailing U.S. Federal Judge, Lewis Kaplan, publicly calling into question his ethics. Donziger and his team claimed Kaplan was “intellectually dishonest,” that his decisions “reflect his deep-seated bias,” and that his approach was “wildly unbalanced.” Donziger even went so far as to accuse Kaplan of being a racist, while trying to have him removed from the case – a move that was unanimously rejected by a federal appeals court only hours after Donziger’s desperate arguments were heard. Undeterred, Donziger and his allies continue to make frequent disparaging statements about Judge Kaplan to the press and via news releases. Most recently, an activist group aligned with Donziger issued a meritless press release and disparaging cartoon alleging that Judge Kaplan stood to gain financially from ruling in favor of Chevron.

Kaplan isn’t the first U.S. judge to feel the brunt of Donziger’s game plan, however. In 2000, Donziger attempted to remove another federal judge, Jed S. Rakoff, while he was presiding over a similar case filed in New York. Outtakes from the movie Crude show Donziger calling Judge Rakoff “corrupt” and “totally biased.”

As the truth of their fraud and misconduct has been revealed, the pattern of abuse by Steven Donziger, Karen Hinton and their associates has become increasingly clear – they will continue to pressure, and attempt to intimidate and humiliate anyone willing to challenge their misdeeds. But, what they can’t change are the facts that expose their true character and intent.