Caso Chevron

Donziger Sued By Lawyer Who Withdrew From Criminal Case

Law360 - Cara Salvatore 17/12/2020

Donziger Sued By Lawyer Who Withdrew From Criminal Case / Foto: Juicio Crudo

Donziger Sued By Lawyer Who Withdrew From Criminal Case / Foto: Juicio Crudo

A former lawyer of Steven Donziger has sued the Chevron foe over what appear to be allegations of unpaid legal bills, while Donziger has separately moved to dismiss the criminal case in which the lawyer, Andrew Frisch, represented him.

Frisch filed a summons Wednesday in New York state court notifying Donziger he was initiating a case for breach of contract for damages "believed to be in excess of $250,000, plus consequential damages of at least $100,000."

No complaint is yet available, but the summons indicates the suit is over "professional services which defendant induced and received without complaint ... provided by plaintiffs." The plaintiffs listed are Frisch and his eponymous law office.

Donziger said in an emailed statement Wednesday, "I do not believe Andy's claims have merit and I intend to contest them."

And Donziger's pro bono lawyer in his criminal case, Ron Kuby, said Wednesday that Frisch did "excellent work" for which he was paid $125,000 before he withdrew from Donziger's case in July.

"If Mr. Frisch were to divide the fee paid by his hours expended, he would discover that he still did better than almost everyone else in this country struggling through a pandemic," Kuby said. "Mr. Donziger has no money, [has] no employment, has been in unprecedented home confinement for almost 500 days, and is facing trial on January 19, 2021. Mr. Frisch is being a bit of a Grinch here, and poor Steven is merely a Who in Whoville."

Frisch was not immediately available for comment.

Meanwhile, Donziger asked a New York federal court Wednesday to dismiss judicial findings that form the basis of his criminal contempt prosecution, saying the findings were on appeal and this status should have blocked the criminal case from ever starting.

Donziger's lawyers asked the judge overseeing his criminal misdemeanor contempt case to dismiss counts from an underlying civil "order to show cause" that Donziger said was essentially the charging document launching the criminal case.

The criminal case, slated for trial Jan. 19, charges Donziger with disobeying court orders to hand over information in the civil case, which Chevron brought against Donziger in 2011 over a $9 billion environmental judgment in Ecuador. In that case, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan agreed with Chevron that the Ecuador judgment was a product of fraud.

Kuby and co-counsel Rhidaya Trivedi said that after Donziger made it clear that he was willing to risk civil contempt over the production orders, and then appealed them, there was no precedent for launching a criminal proceeding.

"He did what countless others had done before him: resist compliance as condition precedent to appellate review, in full anticipation of compliance if the appeal was lost. To Mr. Donziger's lawful resistance, however, the Court responded with lawless retaliation," they said in Wednesday's motion.

"Mr. Donziger's case makes explicit a rule of law so implicitly respected — so taken for granted — it has never been stated: a party who is willing to risk civil contempt to seek appellate review of a production order cannot be held in criminal contempt pending appellate review. Counts 1, 2 and 3 of the Court's July 31, 2019 Order to Show Cause must thus be dismissed," the motion said.

Donziger has been under house arrest for almost 500 days on charges that bear a maximum possible sentence of 180 days.

The contempt charges came about from an order from Judge Kaplan that said Donziger has not complied with his civil-court orders directing him to provide access to his computers, phones, email and social media accounts for forensic inspection. Donziger has responded that he was protecting his Ecuadorian clients, saying the confidential information on his computer might be used to harass them.

Donziger claims that Ecuadorian courts have repeatedly upheld the $9 billion judgment against Chevron and that the company "handsomely compensated" a witness and hired an army of lawyers to create the impression that the judgment was fraudulent.

Special prosecutor Rita Glavin of Seward & Kissel LLPand a spokesman for Chevron declined to comment.

"Everything's on appeal," Donziger said Wednesday. "If I prevail before the Second Circuit, it will, in my view, completely undermine the entire criminal contempt case."

The prosecution is represented by Rita Glavin of Seward & Kissel LLP.

Donziger is represented by Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center and Ron Kuby.

The case is U.S. v. Donziger, case number 1:19-cr-00561, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

--Editing by Breda Lund.

Fuente Original