Nearly 300 students from 52 law schools around the country including Harvard and NYU are boycotting working for a law firm they claim has a conflict of interest handling the case of environmental lawyer Steven Donziger, according to a report.
Lawyers of firm Seward & Kissel were appointed by the government as special prosecutors in Donziger’s criminal contempt of court case accusing him of refusing a request to hand over his cell phone and computer, the New York Law Journal reported.
In a letter the students sent to Seward on Wednesday, they claimed that the firm has a conflict in prosecuting the criminal case for Donzinger — who helped secure an $8.6 billion judgment against Chevron in Ecuador — as Seward has represented Chevron in numerous other unrelated matters, the outlet reported.
“We, the undersigned law students, refuse to consider employment with the firm until it withdraws from its conflicted position as Chevron’s private prosecutor,” read the letter from the group of students — from schools including Stanford, Yale, Harvard and NYU.
“The unethical behavior of Seward & Kissel’s Chevron-linked prosecutors opens the door to future cases in which judges give private law firms the authority to prosecute the critics of multinational corporations—without disclosing their ties to those same industries,” the letter continued, according to the report.
They want the firm to withdraw its involvement in Donziger’s case, the outlet reported.
In 2011, an Ecuadorean court found Chevron responsible for widespread pollution and awarded the rainforest communities and lawyers on the case — including Donziger — the landmark payout.
Chevron then brought a lawsuit against Donziger in Manhattan Federal Court in 2013 and a judge a year later found that Donziger committed fraud in helping to secure the hefty payout in the Ecuador case. The money still hasn’t been released, the legal site reported.
In seeking money damages from Donziger, Chevron in 2018 requested that he turn over his electronics — which Donziger refused citing attorney-client privilege and prompting his criminal contempt case.
Federal prosecutors declined to bring contempt charges against Donziger spurring a federal judge to appoint Seward for the task.
Donziger has unsuccessfully argued in his criminal case that Seward has a conflict and that judges in both his civil and criminal case also have conflicts of interest, according to the report.
His criminal trial is set for May 10, the Law Journal reported.
James Cofer, Seward’s managing partner, told the Law Journal: “The attorneys working on the Donziger criminal case have acted ethically and they have no conflict that would impair their independence and judgment in performing their role as court-appointed special prosecutors.
“[Donziger’s] conflict of interest argument was briefed, and the [federal] Court [in Manhattan] rejected it.”
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