UPDATE 1-Chevron hires new chief in-house lawyer

* R. Hewitt Pate worked for U.S. Justice Department

* Chevron faces big political and legal fight in Ecuador

SAN FRANCISCO, July 29 (Reuters) - Chevron Corp CVX.N has hired a new general counsel with extensive Washington D.C. experience as the U.S. oil company gears up for a politically charged legal fight over a potential $27 billion liability in Ecuador.

Chevron said on Wednesday that R. Hewitt Pate, 47, would serve as vice president and general counsel and report to Charles James, the current general counsel who became an executive vice president earlier this year.

James, who worked with Pate at the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust division before joining Chevron in 2002, said his replacement as Chevron general counsel had a “proven track record of handling complex legal and policy issues.”

Pate has run the global competition practice at Hunton & Williams in the U.S. capital since 2005, before which he served as assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s antitrust division.

He was deputy assistant attorney general for antitrust, responsible for energy, transportation and other regulatory matters from 2001 to 2003.

It was in 2001 that Chevron completed its acquisition of Texaco, which has been sued by 30,000 Ecuadorean plaintiffs who say the company polluted the jungle where they lived by dumping billions of gallons of contaminated water over more than two decades before the company left in the early 1990s.

A ruling in the case in Ecuadorean court, which is weighing a claim for $27 billion in compensation for the environmental damage, is expected some time this year.

Political pressure over the case has steadily risen, with four U.S. senators writing the U.S. trade representative last month to criticize Chevron’s push to cut Ecuador’s trade benefits because of what the company sees as political interference in the case by Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa. [ID:nN26351269]

Pate, who will serve on Chevron’s executive committee, will take up his position at the San Ramon, California-based company on Aug. 3. (Reporting by Braden Reddall; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)