By Barbara Leonard, Courthouse News Service
22 November 2010
Patton Boggs claims Chevron is trying to undermine the $113 billion environmental lawsuit it faces in Ecuador by intimidating attorneys who stand in its way. The law firm claims that Chevron "will not be content until there remains no attorney left in this country who will dare provide representation to the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, lest their good name be dragged through the mud."
Chevron's latest maneuver was to level bogus conflict of interest charges against a Patton Boggs attorney, involving the politically powerful Breaux Lott Leadership Group, led by two former U.S. senators, the law firm claims in District of Columbia Federal Court.
Patton Boggs seeks declaratory judgment "that the Breaux Lott Leadership Group's prior nonlegal work for Chevron does not provide a basis for disqualifying Patton Boggs from representing the Ecuadoran plaintiffs."
The law firm claims that "Chevron has now begun to threaten Patton Boggs by alleging that because lobbying work was previously done by two persons who recently joined Patton Boggs - namely, former United States Senators Trent Lott and John Breaux - through the Breaux Lott Leadership Group, a conflict of interest exists."
Chevron has claimed that it has not faced a fair trial in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, where it is being sued over contamination caused by its subsidiary, Texaco, during 30 years of drilling in the country.
Patton Boggs contends, however, that the Delaware-based oil giant fought to have the case heard in Ecuador and now is trying to overturn the table because it does not expect a favorable outcome.
"Chevron's playbook has long been transparent - for 17 years, the company has done everything it can to avoid engaging on the merits, to obstruct the progress of the case, and to deprive the Ecuadorian plaintiffs of legal representation and aid," the complaint states. "Chevron's attempt to paralyze the Ecuadorian plaintiffs' counsel with unmeritorious threats of disqualification is the latest move in Chevron's ongoing campaign to ward off anyone who dares to provide aid to the Ecuadorian plaintiffs."
Patton Boggs, which signed on in 2010 to represent the Ecuadorian plaintiffs against Chevron in U.S. courts, says it is the next target for Chevron, which has filed discovery motions all over the country in the past year to try to show misconduct in Ecuador.
In an attempt to "deplete Ecuadorian plaintiffs' limited resources," Chevron filed "frivolous and duplicative motions," obstructed field sampling work in the Amazon and intimidated witnesses and attorneys, according to the complaint.
"In an invocation of this limited discovery tool unprecedented in its magnitude, Chevron has to date filed actions in 16 jurisdictions, sought discovery from at least 25 separate individuals or entities affiliated with the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, obtained over 275,000 pages of document discovery, and taken 11 depositions," the complaint states.
Now, the law firm says, Chevron has threatened to disqualify Patton Boggs partner James Tyrrell from representing the Ecuadorian plaintiffs because of ties to the Breaux Lott Leadership Group.
Patton Boggs says it acquired the Breaux Lott Leadership Group to gain its lobbying capabilities in July 2010. It acknowledges that the former U.S. senators behind the group, Trent Lott and John Breaux, did lobbying work for Chevron.
There is no conflict of interest, however, because the group performed "pure lobbying services" and did not provide Chevron with legal work or advice, Patton Boggs claims.
The law firm says Chevron is ignoring relevant case law and judicial rulings, which have found that pure lobbying work is distinct from legal services and does not necessarily invite a conflict of interest.
"Notwithstanding the lack of basis underlying Chevron's threats, it has become quite clear that the company will not be content until there remains no attorney left in this country who will dare provide representation to the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, lest their good name be dragged through the mud," according to the complaint. "Trying to prevent the Ecuadorian plaintiffs from obtaining representation through intimidation and threats is not an acceptable way to defend a case - this abuse must end."
Patton Boggs seeks declaratory judgment, ruling that there is no basis for disqualification. The firm is represented by its attorney Charles Talisman.