Ecuadoreans try to block Patton Boggs settlement with Chevron

A general view of the front entrance for law firm Patton Boggs LLC, in Washington, March 4, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

(Reuters) - A group of Ecuadorean villagers is urging a judge to reconsider his acceptance of a settlement resolving claims that law firm Patton Boggs tried to enforce a fraudulent multibillion-dollar pollution judgment against Chevron Corp.

Patton Boggs agreed on May 7 to pay Chevron $15 million to settle allegations that it represented a group of Ecuadorean villagers seeking to enforce a fraudulent 2011 $18 billion judgment awarded for damages to their country’s rainforest. Patton Boggs agreed to cooperate with Chevron in discovery related to the case and expressed regret for its involvement in the matter.

On Wednesday night, the Ecuadoreans filed a motion in New York federal court asking U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who accepted the settlement on May 7, to reconsider and issue an order blocking the deal on the grounds that it was unethical.

The motion was filed by the villagers’ lawyer, Steven Donziger. In March, Kaplan ruled that Donziger had used “corrupt means,” including bribery to secure the 2011 judgment. Donziger is appealing.

In Wednesday’s motion, Donziger said: “This court should not place its stamp of approval on what amounts to an abandonment of indigent clients.”

By expressing regret and providing “disclosure of client information” as part of the settlement, Patton Boggs violated professional legal ethical codes “and is therefore contrary to law and public policy,” the motion said.

Donziger also said the 300-lawyer firm had settled to pave the way for a merger between it and the 1,300-lawyer Squire Sanders. Donziger’s motion comes as the firms are in the final stages of merger talks.

Patton Boggs managing partner Edward Newberry and general counsel Charles “Rick” Talisman did not respond to requests for comment.

Rebecca Roiphe, a law professor with New York Law School, said any objection to a settlement after it is accepted by a court is a “long shot” and that the judge was unlikely to block the deal based on claims of ethical violations.