It’s no secret that a big part of Chevron’s strategy to undermine any potential Ecuadorian judgment for its alleged contamination of the Lago Agrio region of the Amazonian rainforest has been to attack the American law firms representing the Ecuadorian plaintiffs.
Most recently, you’ll recall, Chevron’s lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher named three U.S firms as non-party co-conspirators in the oil company’s epic racketeering suit against the plaintiffs and their former lead U.S. counsel Steven Donziger.
On Monday, two of the firms in the line of fire offered very different responses to Chevron’s offensive.
FULL COVERAGE: Chevron in Ecuador
Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, which has been particularly active as counsel to the Ecuadorian plaintiffs in Chevron’s extraordinarily successful New York federal district court discovery campaign, moved to withdraw from the New York case. Name partner Jonathan Abady offered little explanation for the firm’s withdrawal in a declaration accompanying the motion, stating only that “the reasons for [Emery Celli's] withdrawal implicate various confidences and privilege issues. If the court requires disclosure of those issues, [the firm] requests that any such disclosure occur in camera and ex parte.”
The firm’s withdrawal motion comes a month after Chevron’s Gibson Dunn lawyers filed a show cause motion in the New York case, seeking (among other things) the disqualification of Emery Celli and Patton Boggs. Chevron argued that neither firm was properly authorized to represent the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, and, moreover, that the firms had engaged in “obstructionist conduct” that merited sanction.
Emery Celli, represented by Frank Wohl of Lankler Siffert & Wohl, responded with a seven-page memo that detailed evidence of its bona fide retention by the Ecuadorian plaintiffs. The memo also called Chevron’s show cause motion “reckless and speculative.”
Chevron counsel Randy Mastro of Gibson Dunn fired back with a Jan. 21 letter to Manhattan federal district court judge Lewis Kaplan, asserting that new evidence from Donziger’s court-ordered deposition and the thousands of e-mails Donziger was compelled to produce to Chevron showed that the other plaintiffs firms “are engaged in a concerted strategy to obstruct and delay the U.S. proceedings in order to obtain a corrupt judgment from the court in Ecuador as leverage to extort money from Chevron.”
We left messages with Emery Celli name partner Abady and the firm’s lawyer, Frank Wohl, but didn’t hear back from them. We also contacted Karen Hinton, spokesperson for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, but didn’t receive a reply.
Chevron counsel Theodore Boutrous Jr. of Gibson Dunn sent us this e-mail comment on Emery Celli’s withdrawal motion: “The only thing that surprises me is that it took them this long to withdraw, given the extraordinary revelations in the Crude outtakes and the other discovery Chevron has obtained. This is the latest in a string of withdrawals in these matters. And we saw the same thing happen in the Dole cases — lawyers jumping ship once the evidence of the fraudulent scheme came to light.” (Background on the Dole litigation, in which Gibson Dunn played a key role in reversing judgments for Nicaraguan plaintiffs who accused Dole of injuries related to the company’s use of pesticides on banana plantations, is here.)
Patton Boggs argues that Chevron, through Gibson Dunn, is attempting to scare off any lawyer who ventures to represent the Ecuadorians. “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,” the complaint says. “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.”
In particular, the complaint cites both the New York show cause action and the RICO suit as evidence of Gibson Dunn’s “unlawful defense strategies that would seek to avoid the merits of this litigation in favor of scurrilous attacks on the conduct of the Ecuadorian plaintiffs’ counsel and other attempts to interfere with the Ecuadorian plaintiffs’ counsel’s ability to represent their clients.”
Patton Boggs partner James Tyrrell Jr. spoke with our colleague Michael Goldhaber about the new allegations. “We’re not concerned if the court in D.C. wishes to examine our conduct in zealously representing our clients,” Tyrrell said. “But the conduct of Chevron and Gibson Dunn should be examined by the court in D.C. as well.” Plaintiffs spokesperson Karen Hinton said in an e-mail that the Patton Boggs complaint “speaks for itself; we welcome efforts to protect the human and environmental rights of people living near Chevron’s contamination.”
Gibson Dunn, which has already moved to dismiss Patton Boggs’s original complaint, sent us an e-mail response to the new allegations. “This is a frivolous and incoherent filing,” said Gibson partner Boutrous in the e-mail. “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.”
This article first appeared on The Am Law Litigation Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.
WATCH OUR EXCLUSIVE RELEASE OF THE CHEVRON TAPES:
VIDEO I: Planning for the Expert’s Report
VIDEO II: The Morning After
VIDEO III: A Message to the Court: Don’t F— with Us
VIDEO V: ‘Smoke and Mirrors and Bulls—’
VIDEO VI: A Vision of the Future
VIDEO I: ‘Killing the Judge?’
VIDEO II: ‘It’s Dirty … It’s Necessary’
VIDEO III: ‘They’re All Corrupt!’
VIDEO IV: ‘Brute Force’
VIDEO V: Calling for Heads to Roll