An Environmental Hero or Outlaw? Can It Be Both?

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By any normal normal, this need to have been the finish of the case. After all, what was left to litigate? But it was not the conclude — not even close. In 2018, immediately after Decide Kaplan’s judgment had eventually been affirmed, the firm introduced yet another circumstance against Mr. Donziger. Amongst other points, it needed him to flip in excess of his personal computer and other electronic products. Choose Kaplan agreed. But Mr. Donziger refused to comply, stating it would give the oil corporation “backdoor obtain to confidential lawyer-shopper communications.”


Nov. 5, 2021, 8:11 p.m. ET

In 2019, the decide took the amazing measure of bringing in a private legislation business to prosecute Mr. Donziger for legal contempt of court docket. This case was presided more than by a further district courtroom decide, Loretta A. Preska, who rapidly requested that he be placed less than home arrest and wear an digital ankle check. Soon after a short demo before this 12 months, she uncovered Mr. Donziger responsible, and sentenced him to the 6 months he is now serving. He was also disbarred.

Alongside the way, some thing surprising has took place: Outside the courtroom, it was as if the ghostwritten report and the alleged bribe of the Ecuadorean choose had in no way occurred. Mr. Donziger’s victory in Ecuador was praised as authentic, and he was broadly considered by progressives as an environmental hero. Sting, the musician, aided increase money for his protection. Greta Thunberg offered her guidance. Agent Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and various of her Democratic colleagues sent a letter to Lawyer Normal Merrick Garland, asking him to evaluation the case. The Harvard Legislation professor Charles Nesson rallied to his cause. Campaigns have been begun to #FREEDONZIGER. A group of gurus from the United Nations reported in a report that his pretrial detention was “arbitrary” and hence unlawful. And on, and on. To them, this was a classic case in point of a fossil fuel company employing its might to punish someone brave enough to stand up to it.

This phenomenon of seeing controversial figures as black or white — saint or sinner, hero or villain — is one particular of the plagues of our polarized age. It has turn out to be practically unattainable for men and women to accept that in some cases their heroes can do a thing completely wrong, and their foes can get something correct. Donald Trump is the most clear illustration of this, but you see it all the time in politics, and in business enterprise as properly. Are C.E.O.s rapacious greed-heads, or are they stewards of capitalism? Are oil corporations giving the gasoline that the entire world needs to function, or are they “outlaws,” as the environmental activist Monthly bill McKibbon phone calls them? Also a lot of folks are unwilling to hold each concepts in their heads at the moment.

This failing is especially obtrusive in the Donziger circumstance. If he had played by the procedures in litigating the situation in Ecuador, he could possibly have occur absent with a judgment that a U.S. court docket would have upheld. Chevron would have had to shell out billions to his impoverished consumers. To place it a further way, by using the strategies he did, Mr. Donziger did his clientele an monumental disservice. That his allies refuse to see this implies their hatred of Major Oil has blinded them to some of Mr. Donziger’s inconvenient steps.

But then there is Chevron. Firms are intended to make rational danger and reward calculations. The company’s thrust to protect against the Ecuadorean judgment from heading into result was rational, and demonstrating that Mr. Donziger had violated the policies was an proper way to do that. But punishing Mr. Donziger over and above that might in the end have been a miscalculation. He has been turned into an environmental martyr, which is the final matter Chevron ought to want. He’s no for a longer time the law firm who broke the guidelines to acquire a circumstance. Instead, he’s the attorney who stood up to Large Oil.