(CN) - Chevron's "crusade" to undermine a $113 billion environmental lawsuit has escalated to "an unlawful smear campaign designed to hamper Patton Boggs' ability to represent its clients," the law firm claims in Washington, D.C., federal court.
Patton Boggs filed a motion this week to amend its complaint, originally filed in November, against Chevron. The amended complaint adds a new cause of action, for tortious interference, and names the law firm representing Chevron, Gibson Dunn, as a defendant.
"Through media outlets and court submissions (frequently in matters in which Patton Boggs has not appeared and is not a party), Chevron and Gibson Dunn have repeated and embellished a fabricated storyline attempting to implicate Patton Boggs in a variety of fraudulent activities," the motion states (parentheses in original). "Chevron and Gibson Dunn have concocted this storyline from thin air, by pulling snippets of e-mails and other documents out of their proper context. And Chevron and Gibson Dunn have taken few pains to hide the malicious intent behind their smear tactics."
Patton Boggs, a Washington firm, now demands an injunction against Chevron and Gibson Dunn's "shameless tactics."
The firm's November complaint sought declaratory judgment, claiming that the oil giant was implicating its attorneys in a fictitious conflict-of-interest controversy. Chevron had allegedly tried to disqualify Patton Boggs partner James Tyrrell from representing Ecuadorians in the multibillion litigation because of Tyrrell's ties to the Breaux Lott Leadership Group.
Patton Boggs says it acquired the Breaux Lott Leadership Group for its lobbying capabilities in July 2010. It acknowledges that the former U.S. senators behind the group, Trent Lott and John Breaux, did lobbying work for Chevron, but says there is no conflict of interest because the group performed "pure lobbying services" and did not provide Chevron with legal work or advice.
But Patton Boggs says it soon discovered that the conflict-of-interest suggestions were only warning shots fired by Chevron and its attorneys.
"Chevron's playbook has long been transparent - for seventeen (17) years, the company has done everything it can to avoid engaging on the merits, to obstruct the progress of the case, and to deprive the Ecuadorian plaintiffs of legal representation and aid," Patton Boggs' motion states. "Chevron's and Gibson Dunn's continued and escalating attempts to paralyze the Ecuadorian plaintiffs' counsel with unmeritorious threats of disqualification and now still more inappropriate and unethical tactics are merely the latest moves in Chevron's ongoing 'scorched earth' warfare. Notwithstanding the lack of basis underlying Chevron's threats, it has become quite clear that neither the company nor its counsel Gibson Dunn will 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. Trying to prevent, by intimidation and otherwise, the Ecuadorian plaintiffs from obtaining representation is not an acceptable way to defend any case - this abuse must end."
Chevron, a Delaware company, has claimed that it has not faced a fair trial in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, where it is being sued for $113 billion in damages to remedy contamination allegedly caused by its subsidiary, Texaco, during 30 years of drilling in the country.
Over the last year, Chevron says it has collected evidence of fraud perpetrated by the lawyers working for the Ecuadorians and the country's own judicial system. Last week, Chevron sued several dozen of those entities for violating anti-racketeering laws.
In a hearing for that case on Tuesday, a New York federal judge granted Chevron a restraining order that will protect it from having to pay the Ecuadorians should the Lago Agrio court rule in their favor.
A spokesman for Chevron called the latest filing from Patton Boggs "frivolous."
"Among the many problems with this confused filing, two stand out," Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson said. "Patton Boggs' own complaint says that their relationship with the so-called Lago Agrio plaintiffs is still going strong. Likewise, it is not a tort for the Gibson Dunn firm to file successful litigation on behalf of Chevron exposing the fraud being committed by the so-called Lago Agrio plaintiffs' lawyers."
Patton Boggs says Chevron's fraud claims are a scare tactic meant to encourage law firms to back away from representing the Ecuadorians.
"Both ethically and contractually, however, Patton Boggs cannot abandon its clients merely because its opponents have seen fit to resort to tactics unbefitting a member of any state's bar," the firm's motion states. "Chevron's and Gibson Dunn's unlawful litigation strategies represent an ongoing effort to tortiously interfere with Patton Boggs' contractual and ethical duty to represent its clients and these unlawful practices must end."
At the hearing in Manhattan on Tuesday, Gibson Dunn attorney Randy Mastro announced that connection to the fraud has already convinced Joseph Kohn and his firm Kohn, Swift & Graf to drop the Ecuadorians' case.
Patton Boggs says that Chevron's mountainous discovery proceedings under section 1782 confound the true issues.
"Chevron and Gibson Dunn have sought to overwhelm and confuse the geographically-diverse 1782 courts into granting their sweeping discovery requests with fabricated cries of urgency and outrage, leaving little time for thorough reflection on Chevron's and Gibson Dunn's true motives-interference with Patton Boggs' (and other attorneys') ability to represent the Ecuadorian plaintiffs," the motion states. "Neither Chevron nor Gibson Dunn should be entitled to continue its wrongful efforts to destroy the contractual relationship between plaintiff and its clients and, in the process, destroy the Ecuadorian plaintiffs' right to counsel."
Patton Boggs attorney Charles Talisman authored the motion.