(Repeats story published on Jan. 28)
* New lead lawyer against Chevron defended Monsanto
* Damages in Ecuador case exceed $27 billion-plaintiffs
By Dan Levine
SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 28 Ecuadoreans seeking a $27
billion judgment against Chevron Corp (CVX.N) have put a new
face on their 18-year old case: high-powered corporate attorney
James Tyrrell, Jr., who defended Monsanto Co (MON.N) against
Agent Orange claims from Vietnam veterans.
Tyrrell, a partner in the powerhouse Washington, D.C. law
firm Patton Boggs, is also representing New York City and
contractors in litigation stemming from the 9/11 attacks on the
At stake for lawyers representing Ecuadoreans in their case
against Chevron: nearly a third of any judgement. Plaintiffs'
damages estimates have ranged from $27 billion to $113 billion.
Last year, analysts at Morgan Stanley (MS.N) predicted that the
politically charged lawsuit would eventually be settled for
between $2 billion and $3 billion.
The lawsuit was brought against Texaco, which merged with
Chevron in 2001. The plaintiffs claim that waste from
oil-drilling was dumped into unlined pits and caused widespread
contamination, illness and multiple deaths in Ecuador.
They chose Tyrrell as their lead attorney after New York
lawyer Steven Donziger came under fire last year over comments
he made in outtakes of the documentary, "Crude."
Donziger, who has advised the Ecuadoreans since 1993, was
quoted discussing paying protesters to surround the courthouse
in the Amazon town of Lago Agrio, as a way of bringing pressure
on the court for a favorable judgment.
Separately, a federal judge in California found "ample
evidence" last year that plaintiffs had colluded with a
court-appointed damages expert in Ecuador who was supposed to
With an Ecuadorean court expected to issue a ruling in the
coming months, Tyrrell's corporate experience is crucial, said
Roger Alford, a professor at Pepperdine University School of
Law who has followed the case.
"Obviously the change of counsel is a very significant
development," Alford said. "It means that the plaintiffs are on
Tyrrell takes issue with any suggestion that his firm's
higher profile suggests the case is faltering.
"How having a whole army of new combat troops ...
represents an act of desperation is difficult to discern,"
Tyrrell said in an interview.
He said his firm originally was tapped to make sure the
Ecuadorean judgment was one that commanded international
respect. "Without trying to be immodest, I guess I have
developed a reputation as a toxic tort, mass disaster lawyer,"
Donziger and his team have insisted that nothing improper
occurred under Ecuadorean law, and that none of the charges
against him have anything to do with the merits of the Ecuador
"They are nothing but a sideshow designed to derail a
legitimate lawsuit against a mighty oil company that mistakenly
bought a multi-billion liability because company executives
believed they could control the end results," said Karen
Hinton, a spokeswoman for the Ecuadoreans.
Donziger has scaled back his role on the plaintiffs' legal
team to avoid being a distraction in the case, Hinton said.
Chevron has said the lawsuit has no merit, and has
initiated 19 court proceedings against the plaintiffs in the
United States and obtained a trove of plaintiffs' internal
documents. The company is trying to make any judgment against
it unenforceable in the United States by portraying the
proceedings in Ecuador as corrupt.
Chevron has no assets in Ecuador, so the plaintiffs will
have to convince a judge in the United States or another
country to enforce any judgment. The Donziger controversy could
have harmed that collection effort, Alford said, but a big firm
like Patton Boggs would have better credentials in court.
The plaintiffs have relentlessly pursued their case, but
the question now, according to Catherine Rogers, a professor at
Penn State Law School, is how well Patton Boggs can play down
any allegations of misconduct against other representatives
of the plaintiffs.
"My guess is Patton Boggs will be much more cautious about
how they present themselves," Rogers said.
In December, a week after Patton Boggs officially took the
lead role in the case, Donziger disclosed in a deposition that
the plaintiffs in the case had agreed to pay their lawyers a 30
percent contingency fee. The deposition took place in New York
City on Dec. 23 and was part of the litigation with Chevron.
Donziger testified that according to the unwritten
agreement, his portion of those fees would be 31.2 percent, he
has testified. Patton Boggs would take a 12 percent share of
The balance of the 30 percent would be paid to other
lawyers in the United States and Ecuador and others involved in
the case on behalf of the plaintiffs.
For example, Burford Capital, a British fund that invests
in commercial disputes, has pledged up to $15 million to
continue the lawsuit on behalf of the Ecuadoreans, and would
receive 5.5 percent of the fees if they invest the full amount,
Tyrrell acts as an outside counsel for Burford, according
to the Patton Boggs website.
If the case were settled for between $2 billion and $3
billion, Donziger could be paid roughly $187.2 million to
Patton Boggs, whose website notes that it has more than 600
lawyers and nonlawyer specialists associated with the firm,
could earn $72 million to $108 million in fees.
American Lawyer, an industry publication, noted on its
website that Patton Boggs had revenue of $332 million in 2009.
Tyrrell declined to discuss any fee arrangements for the
Chevron, meanwhile, has continued to push its strategy of
going after the lawyers. It argued recently that Patton Boggs
should be barred from participating in a Manhattan federal
court proceeding because it had not been properly authorized to
represent the Ecuadorean plaintiffs. But Patton Boggs has said
in a court filing that it was hired by duly authorized South
American lawyers and it is not going away.
(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Peter Henderson, Eric
Effron and Toni Reinhold)