United States: US v. Donziger: Final Report of Trial Monitors released 24 January 2022 | Update

See the full report (pdf) | See LRWC report in July 2020

On 24 January 2022, an international group of legal scholars and practitioners, International Monitoring Panels to Evaluate Trials in the United States (IMPETUS), released a 55-page report of their findings of US Federal Court criminal contempt proceedings against New York lawyer Steven Donziger in the Southern Division of New York (SDNY).

The IMPETUS panel found that Mr. Donziger was denied a fair trial, resulting in more than two years of confinement – several times longer than the available prison sentence in the case. Mr. Donziger was released by prison authorities on 10 December 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns, but he remains in home confinement to serve the rest of a six month sentence handed down on 2 October 2021.

The IMPETUS panel monitored pre-trial and trial proceedings against Donziger for more than 18 months, comparing the process and results with United States (US) international law obligations.mpt after civil contempt rulings had failed to secure Mr. Donziger’s compliance with post-judgment discovery orders in the RICO matter. Included were discovery orders that Donziger provide documents that Mr. Donziger argued were subject to lawyer-client privilege.

After New York federal prosecutors declined to prosecute Mr. Donziger, citing lack of resources, Judge Kaplan appointed the private law firm of Seward & Kissel LLP to prosecute the charges and appointed Judge Loretta A. Preska to preside over the criminal contempt case.

The IMPETUS panel’s “unequivocal assessment of the criminal contempt proceedings against Steven Donziger is that he has been subject to multiple violations of his internationally protected human rights, including his right to a fair trial by an independent and impartial tribunal and his right to the presumption of innocence.”

The monitors’ major findings included an appearance of judicial bias, a marked level of inequality of arms, and denial of the presumption of innocence leading to prolonged arbitrary detention. See the IMPETUS press statement and the full report.issued 24 January 2022. LRWC’s transitional Executive Director, Catherine Morris, acted as one of the trial monitors. Ms. Morris monitored the proceedings in her personal capacity. She is one of the founders and a co-chair of IMPETUS with Stephen Rapp, a former US Ambassador-at-Large, who headed the Office of Global Criminal Justice in the US State Department (2009-2015).