MANHATTAN (CN) - Patton Boggs "unceremoniously abandoned" its Ecuadorean clients through a $15 million settlement with Chevron, "trashing" the environmental suit against the oil giant as fraudulent, the clients fumed.
"There is no way to sugarcoat it: Patton Boggs has put its own interests above those of the people it was supposed to represent, switched sides in the middle of a hotly contested legal dispute, unceremoniously abandoned the clients without so much as notifying them, and publicly expressed regret at having taken on their representation in the first place," the motion to intervene
filed late Wednesday states. "And it has even agreed to cooperate with Chevron in discovery, so that Chevron may use what it finds against the firm's former clients."
New York attorney Steven Donziger signed the 12-page document on behalf of Ecuadorean rainforest residents Hugo Camacho Naranjo and Javier Piaguaje, who claimed in a statement they want to make the settlement "conform to ethical rules" rather than block it.
"No court should place its imprimatur on such a rotten deal," the motion states.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who received the brief, has labeled Donziger a "racketeer" for his handling of an environmental lawsuit against Chevron for its predecessor Texaco's drilling in the Ecuadorean Amazon.
The Ecuadoreans have recently tapped noted civil rights litigator, New York University professor Burt Neuborne, to join Donziger's attorney, Deepak Gupta, in appealing those findings. Patton Boggs had been the firm that Donziger and his clients first looked to when their $9.5 billion victory in the rainforest court was imminent. The powerhouse law firm came up with a strategy to pressure a settlement from Chevron with collections actions around the world in a so-called "Invictus Memo."
Chevron described that document as a blueprint for extorting what it described as a fraudulent judgment derived through bribery, skewed science and corruption of the Ecuadorean judicial process.
Until recently, Patton Boggs vigorously denied those allegations, casting Chevron's allegations in one brief as a campaign to "deter any other lawyers who might otherwise be inclined to represent the Ecuadorian Amazon communities."
Judge Kaplan's ruling that the Ecuadorean judgment had been "procured by corrupt means" did not immediately change Patton Boggs's position, but the D.C. law firm reversed course after the court allowed Chevron to sue the firm for liability weeks later.
As Patton Boggs expressed its "regret" over entering the litigation, several news reports noted that the firm had been pursuing a merger with the Cleveland-based Squire Sanders.
"Absent the unethical settlement agreement submitted for approval to this court, Patton Boggs (and its proposed merger partner) would face years of uncompensated litigation costs fending off Chevron's attacks," Donziger wrote.
Hours after the filing of the blistering brief, Squire Sanders suspended a vote on the proposed merger slated to take place over the Memorial Day weekend, the American Lawyer reported this morning.
Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for Donziger, denied responsibility for the blocked merger, saying their only "concern is about the plight of the Ecuadoreans and their unfair treatment in a U.S. court, not about the future of two law firms."
Donziger's motion includes as an exhibit a four-page letter
to Patton Boggs managing partner Edward Newberry and Charles Talisman. In that letter, the Ecuadoreans call the firm's withdrawal a "direct breach of contract" and a violation of "various provisions of the Code of Professional Ethics."
Chevron declined to comment on either the motion or the Squire Sanders development. Patton Boggs has not not returned a request for comment.
In a two-page letter
to Judge Kaplan on Thursday afternoon, Patton Boggs insisted that the "limited discovery" to which it agreed in the settlement with Chevron grants its former clients the opportunity to assert privilege.
Such discovery is also "far more limited than it would have been had litigation of this proceeded," according to the letter by Morvillo Abramowitz Grand attorney Elkan Abramowitz.
"Patton Boggs has behaved ethically in all respects, including with respect to its decision to conclude its limited attorney-client relationship with the [Lago Agrio plaintiffs]," Abramowitz added.