By Jeff Jeffrey and Mike Scarcella
Patton Boggs has asked a federal judge to enjoin Chevron and its lawyers from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher from tortiously interfering with Patton Boggs’ contract to represent a group of indigenous Ecuadorian people in a long-running suit against the oil and gas giant.
Patton Boggs argues in a motion to amend its complaint that Gibson Dunn should be added as a defendant because Gibson has allegedly “launched an unprecedented campaign to strip the indigenous farming communities of their lawyers at Patton Boggs and to prevent them from obtaining any other legal representation and funding.” The motion was filed yesterday by Charles Talisman, Patton Boggs’ general counsel.
The most recent filing comes in a suit Patton Boggs filed against Chevron in November that sought to have a federal judge declare that there’s no conflict of interest prohibiting the firm from representing plaintiffs in the human rights action against Chevron. Chevron’s lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher argue that a conflict of interest should bar Patton Boggs from representing the plaintiffs in the long-running suit, which is pending in Ecuador and which has collateral proceedings in federal district courts in the United States, including Washington’s trial court.
At issue, Gibson Dunn contends, is work former U.S. senators Trent Lott and John Breaux performed for the Breaux Lott Leadership Group prior to Patton Boggs’ acquisition of the lobbying firm. Patton Boggs argues in court papers that Breaux and Lott, who are both attorneys, were “pure” lobbyists for Chevron and that their shop did not provide legal services.
But Patton Boggs argues in yesterday’s pleading, “Chevron and Gibson Dunn have now, through concerted action, embarked on an unlawful smear campaign designed to hamper Patton Boggs’ ability to represent its clients in accordance with Patton Boggs’ contractual and ethical duties.”
Talisman wrote in the pleading that Chevron and its Gibson team have “repeated and embellished a fabricated storyline” through e-mails and other documents to try to implicate Patton Boggs in a “variety of fraudulent activities.”
Talisman said there’s no harm in adding a defendant at this point in the litigation because Chevron has not filed an answer to the original complaint and there hasn’t been discovery. Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has yet to rule on that motion.
Further complicating the litigation, Chevron recently filed a civil racketeering suit in federal district court in Manhattan against plaintiffs' lawyers in the Ecuadorian pollution case. As The American Lawyer reported, the complaint identifies as non-defendant co-conspirators some of the law firms that have represented the Ecuadorian plaintiffs — Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady and Patton Boggs — and firms that have provided financing for the Lago Agrio suit, including Kohn Swift & Graf, Motley Rice, and Burford Group.
Responding to Patton Boggs' amended complaint, Theodore Boutrous Jr., a Gibson Dunn partner in the Washington and Los Angeles offices who co-chairs the firm’s appellate and constitutional law practice group, said, "This is a frivolous and incoherent filing. Patton Boggs has taken over a case plagued with corruption and fraud and there is nothing they can say or do to avoid that fact. As detailed in the RICO complaint, our 19 successful actions around the country revealed overwhelming evidence of a conspiracy by the plaintiffs and their agents to use the Ecuador litigation as part of a scheme to defraud Chevron. The claim that our victories in these matters are somehow 'interfering' with Patton Boggs's relationship with the plaintiffs is totally baseless and they know it -- in fact, on Monday, the same day they sought to sue us, they showed up in New Jersey representing the plaintiffs."