Biden wants Chevron lawyer who helped jail Steven Donziger to become a federal judge

In a flagrant insult to climate and Indigenous rights activists, President Biden has renominated Jennifer Rearden, a lawyer for multi-billion dollar polluter Chevron, for a federal judgeship.

Rearden worked at the firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP when they took Chevron on as a client in their notorious legal campaign against environmental lawyer Steven Donziger after he challenged the company’s destruction of the Ecuadorian rainforest. 

In 1993, Donziger joined the Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia, an organization of Indigenous and farmer communities throughout Sucumnbios, Ecuador, in filing a class action lawsuit against Chevron — formerly Texaco — for making their land uninhabitable. Between 1967 and 1992, Chevron spilled more than 18.5 billion gallons of polluted water into the Amazon rainforest, causing destruction over two million acres of land.

Although the case was initially filed in the United States, Chevron successfully lobbied to have it moved to an Ecuadorian court in search of a more favorable ruling. However, Donziger and his clients won the lawsuit in 2011, as the Ecuadorian Federal court ruled that Chevron was at fault and must pay $18.2 billion to the litigants. 

This ruling was met with major backlash from Chevron, and smear campaigns were launched against both Donziger and the Ecuadorian legal system. Chevron claimed that the 2011 ruling by Judge Nicholas Zambrano was instead ghost written by former Judge Alberto Guerrera after he was bribed by Donziger and his clients. However, when this claim was looked into by Ecuadorian officials and an international tribunal, Guererra admitted he had been bribed with $20,000 and relocation to the United States by Chevron to say he wrote the decision.

Even with Chevron’s tireless defamation campaign, the decision of the 2011 ruling was upheld by the Ecuadorian High Court in 2012, and eventually by the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court in 2018. Instead of simply paying the litigants the settlement they were legally entitled to, Chevron instead used their exorbitant means and political connections to file new charges against Donziger in the United States after threatening him and the victimized Indigenious communities with a “lifetime of litigation.”

In 2014, Chevron used Rearden’s law firm to stage a bogus racketeering case against Donziger, in which Judge Lewis Kaplan not only ruled in Chevron’s favor, but also committed what 37 legal organizations claim to be judicial misconduct. In a complaint against Kaplan, these organizations as well as 200 lawyers detail how he denied Donziger a jury, restricted his ability to have a coherent defense and allowed him to be prosecuted by a private law firm for criminal charges after the case was denied by the U.S. attorney’s office. These decisions by Kaplan have resulted in Donziger being arrested in 2019, and remaining under house arrest since, a ruling which both Donziger and the United Nations have called illegal.

Kaplan is a prime example of how so often corporate lawyers are inserted into positions of authority in the so-called justice system. He previously worked as a tobacco industry lawyer for years to absolve companies from responsibility for mass death, and has repeatedly ruled in favor of corporations and the wealthy. While he prosecuted Donziger, he was actually invested in Chevron through three JP Morgan funds. 

Kaplan’s clear bias is incredibly similar to that of recently nominated Rearden, who has worked for Gibson Dunn for almost 20 years on a plethora of cases on behalf of corporations. In 2010, Rearden represented Lehman Brothers in one of their many cases after they filed for bankruptcy following their central role in the 2008 financial collapse. She has also argued in favor of accused discriminants in a 2018 case against Uber for refusing a requirement to expand accessibility, and in 2013 in favor of property company LeFrak after they discriminated against tenants who have AIDS. 

A Senate questionnaire obtained by the intercept also shows that Rearden has investments with the Blackstone group, which ironically has also been accused of contributing to Amazonian deforestation through its subsidiary, Hidrovias do Brasil. Reardon, like Kaplan, has proven her dedication to upholding corporate supremacy within the legal system. 

Despite Biden’s posturing as a defender of the environment, his decision to renominate Rearden signals that in reality he is prepared to place profits over the planet — business as usual under the capitalist system.

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