State Appellate Court Holds That Federal Judge’s Findings Of Attorney Misconduct Cannot Be Relitigated

On July 10, 2018, the Appellate Division, First Department suspended an attorney from the practice of law, without a second evidentiary hearing, based on the findings of a federal court Judge from the Southern District last March. Judge Kaplan conducted a 7 week trial with testimony from over 60 witnesses (both live testimony and deposition testimony) and issued a 322 page decision finding that attorney, Steven R. Donziger had engaged in "coercion, fraud and bribery in connection with an $8.6 billion judgment obtained in Ecuador.”

Donziger argued that he was entitled to another evidentiary hearing before a determination was made to suspend or revoke his law license. Applying the doctrine of collateral estoppel, the First Department said that Donziger received a full and fair hearing and the issues were identical in both proceedings. It was noted that Donziger appealed the federal court decision but did not challenge the findings of fact. Thus, there was finality of the earlier determination on his misconduct.

According to the Appellate Division, both the federal court action and the disciplinary proceeding "center on respondent's judicial coercion, corruption of a court expert and ghostwriting of his report, misrepresentations concerning the expert's independence, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, improperly threatening criminal prosecution, and judicial bribery." In the Matter of Steven R. Donziger, 2018 WL 3351377

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