The Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of a trial lawyer who was convicted after he secured a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron in Ecuadorian court by bribing the judge.
After Chevron sued Donziger in U.S. courts, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan found his victory was “obtained by corrupt means,” citing in his 2014 opinion the fact that Donziger had bribed the judge and ghostwritten both the environmental report and the court opinion. In 2021, Donziger was convicted on civil contempt of court charges after failing to hand over his electronics to Chevron’s forensic experts, a conviction he appealed on separation of powers grounds, according to Reuters.
When Kaplan initially charged Donziger in 2019, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan declined to prosecute the charges due to lack of resources, prompting Kaplan to appoint private lawyers, Reuters reported. Donzinger, who ultimately spent 45 days in prison and 993 days on house arrest, argues that the court-appointed private prosecutors violate the separation of powers because they were operating without executive oversight.
After the Second Circuit upheld his conviction, Donzinger petitioned the Supreme Court to grant certiorari in September, which the Supreme Court denied on Monday.
Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh issued a dissenting opinion, arguing that the case “broke a basic constitutional promise.” One branch cannot install “nonofficer employees” for another, they wrote.
“However much the district court may have thought Mr. Donziger warranted punishment, the prosecution in this case broke a basic constitutional promise essential to our liberty,” they wrote. “In this country, judges have no more power to initiate a prosecution of those who come before them than prosecutors have to sit in judgment of those they charge. … Our Constitution does not tolerate what happened here.”
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