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Lawyer who sued Chevron sentenced to six months in contempt case

A disbarred American lawyer who spent decades battling Chevron Corp (CVX.N) over pollution in the Ecuadorian rainforest was sentenced Friday to six months’ imprisonment for criminal contempt charges arising from a lawsuit brought by the oil company.

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

“It seems that only the proverbial two-by-four between the eyes will instill in him any respect for the law,” Preska said.

Donziger’s lawyer, Martin Garbus, called the sentence “outrageous.”

Chevron and private lawyers serving as prosecutors for the United States did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Donziger plans to appeal. He will remain under home confinement, where he has been for two years, if he appeals quickly. Preska denied bail pending the appeal.

His sentencing is the latest twist in a legal saga stemming from his representation of villagers in Ecuador’s Lago Agrio region who sought to hold Chevron liable for water and soil contamination by Texaco between 1964 and 1992. Chevron acquired Texaco in 2000.

Donziger, a Harvard Law School graduate, won a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron in an Ecuadorian court in 2011.

San Ramon, California-based Chevron sued him in Manhattan federal court later that year, claiming that he and his associates pressured the presiding judge in Ecuador.

In 2014, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan refused to enforce the $9.5 billion judgment, saying it had been secured through bribery, fraud and extortion.

Chevron later sought to recoup money Donziger personally reaped in the Ecuadorian case, and Kaplan ordered Donziger to turn over electronic devices to the company’s forensic experts.

When he refused, Kaplan charged him with criminal contempt. He was disbarred by a New York appeals court last year.

Reporting by Sebastien Malo in New York. Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel. Editing by Noeleen Walder, David Bario and Matthew Lewis

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