Chevron has also convinced a New York federal judge to allow it — despite protests from Patton Boggs about attorney-client privilege — to take the extraordinary step of examining thousands of pages of the law firm’s internal communications regarding its client, indigenous people from Ecuador’s Amazon who are suing Chevron.
The stakes in the related cases are enormous, in dollars and reputation. Chevron, which spends scores of millions of dollars a year on image advertising, is facing an $18.2
billion judgment handed down by an Ecuadoran court for health and environmental damages caused by hundreds of leaky pits filled with thick, gloppy toxic waste from oil drilling. The unlined pits, the plaintiffs say, were left by Texaco, a U.S. oil company that packed up and quit Ecuador in 1992. Chevron acquired Texaco — and this mess — in 2001.
Patton Boggs is one of Washington’s most storied law firms, known as much for its lobbying prowess as litigation skills, and whose normal haunts are the halls of Congress rather than the jungles or courts of Ecuador. In 2012, it earned $45.8 million in lobbying fees, nearly 50 percent more than the No. 2 firm. It began advising the Ecuadoran plaintiffs in early 2010. Now, it finds itself being sucked deeper into a costly, prolonged and possibly embarrassing morass. Former allies in the case have turned against it. The firm is no longer fighting for its clients alone, but for its own name.
“If someone seriously suggests that [the] 50-year-old law firm of Patton Boggs would wreck, would risk its professional reputation for a group of Ecuadorans whose case we feel strongly about, that we would be involved in a broad fraud, I suggest whoever might believe that: I have a bridge in New York I might like to try to sell them,” Patton Boggs partner James E. Tyrrell Jr. said in a Washington district court last year.
Chevron’s lead attorney, Randy M. Mastro — former mob prosecutor, Rudy Giuliani protege and head of litigation at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher — retorted: “Your Honor, Mr. Tyrrell asks the question, would Patton Boggs be risking their reputation on these Ecuadoran plaintiffs. . . . The answer, unfortunately, from their own documents, is yes. The answer is: A firm getting a contingency fee on $18.2 billion will do a lot of things that shock the conscience. And what they did here shocks the conscience.”
When Patton Boggs signed onto the Ecuador case in early 2010 at the suggestion of a hedge fund looking into financing the litigation, it wrote a memorandum titled “Invictus” — borrowing the title of a 19th-century poem that culminates with the famous lines “I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul.” In it, Patton Boggs outlined a strategy to pursue international Chevron assets to enforce the $18.2 billion judgment, “with the ultimate goal of effecting a swift and favorable settlement.”