Patton Boggs, Washington, D.C. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ NLJ)
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the status of pending proceedings between Patton Boggs and Chevron in the Southern District of New York. Chevron has sought permission to file counterclaims against the law firm. The company’s motion is pending.
In a lengthy ruling for Chevron Corp. in a long and hard-fought battle over the blame for pollution in the Amazon, Washington law firm Patton Boggs came in for plenty of attention—37 mentions in the main text of the ruling, to be exact.
Patton Boggs stressed that it wasn’t a party or defendant in the case, in which Chevron successfully argued that plaintiffs attorney Steven Donziger committed fraud in obtaining a $9.5 billion judgment against the oil company in Ecuador.
But Patton Boggs—backed for a time by hedge fund Burford Capital—had fought to enforce the judgment in the United States. Chevron is pursuing claims against Patton Boggs separately in New York federal court, alleging that it knew that Donziger had ghostwritten a key environmental report, thereby contributing to fraud, deceit and malicious prosecution. A judge has not said whether to permit Chevron’s counterclaims to proceed.
“With so much back and forth, blame slinging, there is a lack of clarification, and everyone is gathered under the same gray cloud,” said Elizabeth Lampert, a law firm public relations and crisis communications expert in California.
As Gibson Dunn & Crutcher attorney Randy Mastro, who represents Chevron, put it in a conference call with reporters: “The 500-page decision speaks volumes about what happened here. We’re not going to speculate on others’ motives.”
Patton Boggs’ general counsel Charles Talisman issued this statement through a spokesman: “Patton Boggs was neither a party nor trial counsel in the Donziger case, and no witnesses from our firm were called to testify at the trial. Therefore, it is inappropriate for us to comment in detail on the judgment entered in that case today. However, Patton Boggs always strives to represent its clients’ interests zealously and ethically. … Despite the court’s findings regarding other parties—which they have stated that they will contest on appeal—Judge Kaplan has not made any findings that Patton Boggs engaged in any wrongdoing.”
For his part, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan had nothing direct to say on that point in his ruling on Tuesday.
“The question whether Patton Boggs misled … may be important to a Chevron claim against Patton Boggs in a related action or in any litigation that may arise between Burford and Patton Boggs,” he wrote. “But those cases are not now before the Court, and the answer to that question is not material to the resolution of this one.”
If the plaintiffs ever persuade the courts to enforce the judgment, the firm would stand to collect some $200 million in fees, according to Fortune magazine. The shadow of its involvement helped to poison merger talks between Patton Boggs and Locke Lord, according to NLJ affiliate The American Lawyer—Locke Lord essentially walked away from the potential liabilities.
Now Patton Boggs is talking merger with Squire Sanders. Patton has hired an advising and restructuring company to help it retool its compensation plan and reorganize after downsizing by about 100 lawyers in two years, as the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. Squire Sanders’ Washington managing partner John Burlingame did not respond to a request for comment.
For now, Donziger vows to appeal Kaplan’s ruling and seek to enforce the Ecuadoran judgment outside the United States.
“Today’s decision should be extremely troubling for anybody who cares about the rule of law. This court has taken the extraordinary and unprecedented step of appointing itself a worldwide fact-finding commission,” Deepak Gupta, Donziger’s attorney, said.
Contact Katelyn Polantz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated 10:23 a.m. Patton Boggs was mentioned 37 times in the Chevron ruling, not 17.