In a hearing in a federal suit in New York, Chevron Corp. accused the law firm of Patton Boggs of assisting crooked plaintiffs’ lawyers. Patton Boggs’s involvement in the environmental suit filed against Chevron in Ecuador in 2003 is the subject of Chevron’s gripe. Since 2010, U.S. lawyer Steven Donziger and his Ecuadorian co-counsel Pablo Fajardo have relied on Patton Boggs partner James E. Tyrrell, Jr. as co-captain on the case. Patton Boggs is one of the leading lobbying and government-relations shops in Washington, D.C.
The suit, filed on behalf of Amazon rainforest inhabitants, claims that a subsidiary of Texaco, acquired in 2001 by Chevron, contaminated the rivers and wells the plaintiffs relied on for sustenance. The plaintiffs won an $18.2 billion judgment in the case from an Ecuadorian provincial court in February 2011. Because Chevron has no assets in Ecuador, the plaintiffs are now seeking to enforce the judgment in the courts of other countries.
With protests that it has done nothing wrong, Patton Boggs accused Chevron of trying to intimidate it out of helping worthy plaintiffs pursue a legitimate cause. Patton Boggs’s Tyrrell told a federal judge in a related proceeding in Washington, D.C. that, “If someone seriously suggests that the 50-year-old law firm of Patton Boggs would wreck, would risk its professional reputation for a group of Ecuadorians whose case we feel strongly about, but that we would be involved in a . . . fraud, I have a bridge in New York I might like to try to sell them as well.”
In June, Chevron’s lawyers served a 43-page subpoena on Patton Boggs, demanding the release of tens of millions of pages of documents detailing its role in the case. Chevron’s subpoena was served in connection with a civil suit accusing Donziger, Fajardo, and the team’s Denver-based environmental experts, Stratus Consulting, among others, of violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
Chevron’s allegations, if proven, would amount to criminal extortion, mail and wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering. Manhattan federal judge Lewis Kaplan, along with at least five other U.S. federal district judges and one federal appeals panel, has found “prima facie” evidence of fraud tainting the plaintiffs’ case.