(Adds comment from the general counsel of Patton Boggs)
By Casey Sullivan
NEW YORK, March 31 A New York judge has allowed
Chevron Corp to sue Patton Boggs over claims that the
Washington law and lobbying firm engaged in fraud while trying
to enforce a multibillion-dollar environmental judgment for a
group of Ecuadorean villagers.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan gave his ruling on Monday
in Manhattan federal court, saying he had "difficulties" with
Patton Boggs' argument that a New York court did not have
jurisdiction to hear the case.
"This is about holding accountable all those who are
responsible for trying to enforce this travesty of justice that
occurred in Ecuador," Chevron's lawyer, Randy Mastro, said in an
interview. "Now there will be the opportunity to hold Patton
Boggs accountable for its role."
Patton Boggs general counsel Charles Talisman in a statement
called Chevron's claims "baseless and unlikely ever to proceed
to litigation on the merits." He said the case was in its early
stages and there were still jurisdictional arguments being made.
"If this case advances...we look forward to showing the lack
of merit in Chevron's allegations regarding our law firm," he
said. "We have no doubt that we acted ethically and properly in
assisting these communities, and that we will be able to
demonstrate this to the court if that becomes necessary."
In 2011, an Ecuadorean judge ruled in favor of plaintiff
lawyer Steven Donziger against Chevron for polluting the
country's rainforest. An award to the villagers for $18 billion
was reduced in 2013 to $9.5 billion.
Patton Boggs was hired by the villagers in 2010 to come up
with a strategy to enforce the judgment, with partner James
Tyrrell leading the enforcement efforts, according to court
On March 4, Kaplan ruled that there was "clear and
convincing evidence" that Donziger's legal team had used
bribery, fraud and extortion in pursuit of the multibillion-
dollar judgment, according to court papers.
After Patton Boggs began enforcement efforts, Chevron in May
asked Kaplan if it could bring counterclaims against the firm
that it had concealed Donziger's fraudulent tactics, among other
Chevron said in court papers that Tyrrell took the case
despite having ethical concerns about its merits but did so
because of "enormous financial pressure at Patton Boggs,"
according to court papers.
Tyrrell and Patton Boggs have denied the claims.
In June, Patton Boggs claimed the court lacked jurisdiction
because its partners consisted of "stateless" persons stationed
in Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi and other foreign locations and could
not be tried in New York.
Kaplan said on Monday the Patton Boggs partners in question
"at least arguably were domiciliaries of the states of the
United States" and the firm had the burden of proving partners
intended to give up their U.S. domiciles or take up domicile in
a foreign country.
"That burden has not been sustained here."
Patton Boggs is in merger talks with the larger firm Squire
Sanders. Discussions include how to prevent a newly formed firm
from assuming liability related to the Chevron case, two people
with knowledge of the matter said earlier this month, on
condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak
publicly about it.
(Reporting by Casey Sullivan; Editing by Ted Botha and Lisa