U.S. energy giant Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX) is seeking a federal judge's permission to sue Patton Boggs LLP, a large Washington, D.C., law firm that is representing an Ecuadorian client in a 20-year-old environmental case, for what it alleges has been a campaign of fraud and deceit in its handling of that environmental case.
Chevron's request to sue Patton Boggs, which was filed Friday, responds to three lawsuits that Patton Boggs filed on its own behalf against the oil company. The company alleges that the 455-lawyer firm committed multiple acts of corruption, bribery and false representation in three of its suits against the energy corporation. Chevron also seeks to sue Patton Boggs with "malicious prosecution" for having pursued its three lawsuits in bad faith. Chevron's wants the court's permission to hold the law firm liable for any damages the company suffers in its long-running legal battle with a group of Ecuadorian farmers organized as the Amazon Defense Front.
In response to Chevron's request to sue the firm, Patton Boggs says it has acted in good faith at all times since becoming involved in the case against Chevron in 2010.
"We will defend ourselves in this case," a spokesperson for Patton Boggs told the International Business Times," and we are confident that the world will see through Chevron's increasingly transparent efforts to divert attention from its liability in Ecuador and from the suffering of the Amazon communities."
Patton Boggs' three lawsuits against Chevron have not fared well. The firm began suing Chevron in November 2010 and eventually filed three lawsuits against the company. Two were dismissed by the court in 2011, and the third, which was filed last November in Newark, was transferred to New York by Newark federal judge Esther Salas, who criticized Patton Boggs for "jurisdictional maneuvering." In March 2013, U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV recommended dismissal of Patton Boggs' third suit against Chevron.
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The background to the increasingly contentious clash of the big law firm and the big oil company stems from a 20-year-old case in Ecuador. In 1993, Texaco Petroleum Co., which was part of a consortium, including Ecuador's state-owned oil company, that was developing an oil field known as Lago Agrio, was sued by a group of Ecuadorian farmers organized as the Amazon Defense Fund, or ADF, for damages arising from oil spills and other kinds of pollution. In 2001, Chevron bought Texaco, thus inheriting its ongoing litigation. In February 2010, Patton Boggs began representing the ADF, which sought $27 billion from Texaco, and, in February 2011, an Ecuadorian court awarded the plaintiffs $18 billion.
Besides appealing that action, Chevron began a series of successful efforts to disclose a pattern of fraud and fabrication of evidence.
"Chevron maintains that the [Ecuadorian] judgment is illegitimate because of documented evidence of fraud and unethical action by the plaintiff's lawyers, as well as the Ecuadorian government and judiciary," the company says on its website. "These fraudulent actions include the plaintiffs' lawyers falsifying data in multiple instances and in the name of supposedly independent environmental experts, paying experts to ghostwrite exaggerated environmental-impact assessments and bribing the judge who allowed the plaintiff's lawyers to write the actual judgment issued against Chevron."
In November 2010, Patton Boggs filed the first of its three lawsuits against Chevron. Meanwhile, Patton Boggs is seeking to enforce the Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron in Canada, Brazil and Argentina.