Chevron Corporation and its lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher aren’t done putting Steven Donziger through the ringer.
Two weeks after persuading a federal judge that Donziger won a $9.5 billion environmental judgment against the oil giant through fraud and racketeering, Chevron now wants the same judge to order Donziger to cover $32.3 million of its legal bills. That may seem like a lot to ask from a solo practitioner who works from a home office, but Chevron says it’s a reasonable request given the financial and legal support Donziger has received over the years.
Chevron wrote in a 25-page motion filed on Tuesday that $32.3 million “represents the fees incurred for only a portion of the legal work required to prevail in this action,” like attending trial and responding to burdensome discovery requests. Chevron said that its lead lawyers at Gibson Dunn billed 36,837 hours for those tasks at an average rate of $950 per hour. Contract attorneys brought in by Gibson Dunn, Huron Consulting Group Inc. and Merrill Corp billed another 139,747 hours at rates between $60 and $120 per hour, according to the motion.
The fee application will be reviewed by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan, who ruled on March 4 that Donziger engaged in a wide range of misconduct on his way to winning the huge judgment in an Ecuadorean court in 2011. Kaplan’s ruling followed a bench trial that American Lawyer columnist Michael D. Goldhaber called a rout for Chevron.
Donziger’s appellate attorney, Deepak Gupta of GuptaBeck, issued a statement calling the fee request a “transparent attempt to intimidate anyone from ever having the temerity to sue over wrongdoing that, in this case, devastated thousands of people’s lives, their culture, and their environment.” (In the Ecuadorean litigation that spawned the New York case, the plaintiffs claimed that their rainforest homeland was fouled by toxic oil sludge.) Gupta added that Donziger “is a solo environmental lawyer who works from the kitchen table of his apartment. Chevron knows he can’t actually pay those fees—and that’s the point.”
Chevron’s lawyers at Gibson Dunn, Randy Mastro and Andrea Neuman, offered plenty of justifications for the eye-popping fee request in Tuesday’s motion.
They wrote that “a substantial portion of the fees Chevron seeks here were incurred as a direct result of Donziger’s overbroad discovery requests, his frivolous motions, and his obstruction of Chevron’s discovery.” And they defended Gibson Dunn’s hefty billing rates, citing data compiled by our affiliate The National Law Journal that lists higher rates for peer firms such as Latham & Watkins and Debevoise & Plimpton.
Chevron didn’t include time billed by junior Gibson Dunn associates or any time at all from its in-house attorneys. The underlying environmental case and related suits have likely cost Chevron upward of a half-billion dollars, as we’ve reported.
In addition to parsing the numbers, Chevron questioned Donziger’s underdog status in its motion, pointing out that his side received $25 million in litigation funding from online gaming magnate Russell DeLeon, a former Harvard Law School classmate of Donziger’s. (Incidentally, a Gibraltar judge ruled on March 14 that Chevron can proceed with a lawsuit against DeLeon over his role in the Ecuador case.)