Steven Donziger’s career as a lawyer has come to an end. A New York court yesterday disbarred him. This result will not surprise longtime Letters Blogatory readers. Although the referee who conducted the hearing was clearly sympathetic to Donziger, the law was clear: the facts that Judge Kaplan found had preclusive effect and could not be relitigated. And on those facts (or facts′), which included bribery of a judge and falsification of an expert report, disbarment was clearly the right sanction. Here is the key line from the per curiam decision: “Respondent has been found guilty of egregious professional misconduct, namely, corruption of a court expert and ghostwriting his report, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and judicial coercion and bribery which he steadfastly refuses to acknowledge and shows no remorse for.”
As I have written before, I do think that some of Judge Kaplan’s key findings are not just final but right. Donziger and his team did try to pass off a partisan expert report as independent. I was less sure about the evidence of judicial bribery, because I thought that the source of the evidence, the corrupt judge himself, lacked credibility. But as I say, whether right in whole or right in part, Judge Kaplan’s findings of fact, from which Donziger never appealed or sought postjudgment relief, are final.
Any disbarment is a sad occasion, and I hope Donziger’s many critics will be able to refrain from dancing on his professional grave. Donziger has, of course, vowed to appeal, calling the decision a “horrendous miscarriage of justice” by a “low-level appellate judge.” I understand, though, that in general, the prospects for a discretionary appeal to the New York Court of Appeals are not promising. What remains for him now is to learn whether he will be found guilty of criminal contempt of court. His trial, in New York, is currently scheduled for next month.