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Follow the money: Why disbarred lawyer Steven Donziger was fired by his Ecuadorian clients

Date: Jun 16, 2021

Disbarred lawyer Steven Donziger likes to present himself to the media as a lawyer for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs in the case against Chevron.

In a recent interview, Donziger, an adjudicated racketeer, boasted: “I also have a huge amount of skill and institutional knowledge that I think benefits my clients and they want me to continue as their lawyer.”

Reality says otherwise.

In 2017, the Unión de Afectados por Texaco (UDAPT), an organization representing 36 of the 46 so-called Lago Agrio plaintiffs and all the relevant indigenous communities, declared Donziger “persona non grata” in Ecuador “due to his non-transparent actions.” UDAPT said in a press release that its members “had decided to publicly warn that Donziger is not authorized to represent them or raise money, and if he does, the communities will disavow any statement or commitment made on their behalf.”

They had, in fact, fired him in 2013. In a letter that year, the communities called on Donziger to respond to questions about how he had used money raised in their name. He was promptly fired as their lawyer, representative and spokesman after he refused to explain the use of funds, the statement said. A “draft letter” published by the UDAPT on its website and later removed, stated:

  • “Donziger’s dismissal was motivated by various events. For starters, Donziger has repeatedly refused to account for the use of more than $20 million that he ‘raised’ on behalf of his clients.”
  • “In addition, Ecuadorians were concerned about Donziger’s own statements about his personal contingency fee (more than $600 million), but more importantly, the UDAPT learned from different sources published during the RICO lawsuit, that Donziger acted in his own interest and against the interest of the affected Ecuadorians.”
  • “Because of all this, Donziger was named persona non grata and is not welcome in ANY indigenous community in the affected area.”

In 2014, a federal court in New York determined that the Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron for $9.5 billion was the product of fraud, bribery, blackmail, and other illegalities perpetrated by Donziger and his Ecuadorian co-conspirators. The Wall Street Journal branded the Ecuador lawsuit “the legal fraud of the century.”

During Donziger’s racketeering trial, one of the relevant Ecuadorian indigenous communities, the Waorani, sued Donziger in New York, alleging unjust enrichment, and claiming that Donziger falsely “represented to the [Ecuadorian] Court that [he] represent[ed]” the plaintiffs when, in actuality, there was no agreement between Donziger and the plaintiffs. The Waorani plaintiffs alleged that Donziger’s “interests in the [Ecuadorian] Litigation lie not in securing the Plaintiffs’ rights and interests in the [Ecuadorian] Judgement, but rather in collecting as much of the judgment as possible for their own use and benefit.”

Donziger was disbarred in New York last year for his unlawful and unethical conduct in the Ecuadorian case.