Nine Democrats call for release of jailed lawyer who took on Chevron

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FILE PHOTO: Attorney Steven Donziger arrives at the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in New York

(Reuters) – Nine U.S. House Democrats have asked the Justice Department to release American environmental lawyer Steven Donziger, who spent decades battling Chevron Corp over pollution in the Ecuadorian rainforest.

The disbarred lawyer was handed a six-month imprisonment sentence in October for criminal contempt arising from a lawsuit brought by the oil company.

The Democrats including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib on Monday said in a letter addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland that the lawyer was jailed for “petty contempt of court”.

“As the United States is a party to the District Court case against Mr. Donziger, we request that you act immediately to reclaim control of this case, dismiss the charges, and free Mr. Donziger from his imprisonment,” the letter said.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska sentenced Donziger after finding him guilty in May of “willfully” defying court orders, including by failing to turn over his computer and other devices.

Donziger had represented villagers in Ecuador's Lago Agrio region who sought to hold Chevron liable for water and soil contamination by Texaco – which was acquired by the company in 2000 – between 1964 and 1992. Donziger won a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron in an Ecuadorian court in 2011.

In 2014, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled in favor of Chevron, saying the Ecuadorian judgment had been secured through fraudulent means.

Chevron did not immediately respond to a Reuters' request for comment sent during overnight hours.

(Reporting by Vishal Vivek and Ann Maria Shibu in Bengaluru; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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