In the Ecuadoran case, Patton Boggs is investing its own sweat equity, charging reduced rates in return for a share of any settlement. Just producing the documents that Chevron subpoenaed cost more than $2 million, Tyrrell said.
Earlier, as costs mounted, a Philadelphia law firm Kohn, Swift & Graf that originally bankrolled the plaintiffs’ case, providing cash in return for a chunk of any payment, dropped out, amid quarrels with Donziger over tactics.
Donziger’s defense lawyers Keker & Van Nest dropped him in May saying in a court filing that he owed them $1.4 million. “This is an extraordinary case, which has degenerated into a Dickensian farce,” John W. Keker said. “Through scorched-earth litigation, executed by its army of hundreds of lawyers, Chevron is using its limitless resources to crush defendants and win this case through might rather than merit.”
Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson responds: “Our response to the Lago Agrio litigation has been proportionate to the fraud that’s been committed against the company and our shareholders.”
Patton Boggs takes the case
How Patton Boggs ended up here is a tale of how the old boy network works in the elite legal world. And it involves an unusual niche — hedge funds that invest in complex litigation in the hope of sharing a big payday.
In November 2009, a New York firm seeking financing for the Ecuadoran plaintiffs contacted Burford Capital, run by Christopher Bogart, a former general counsel of Time Warner and litigator at the white shoe firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore. Burford is the world’s biggest institutional source of litigation financing, with a $300 million fund.
Burford’s partners met Donziger, the plaintiffs’ dogged U.S. lawyer who needed fresh backing. Before investing, however, Burford wanted a “highly regarded U.S. litigation counsel” involved, according to a Bogart court filing.
James E. Tyrrell Jr., a partner at the Newark office of Patton Boggs and a member of the firm’s executive committee, was the obvious choice. He and four top executives at Burford had been partners at Latham & Watkins.
In an affidavit filed in April, Bogart says Tyrrell was “an advocate and enthusiast of litigation funding.” He also handled complex cases. He had been lead counsel defending New York City against health claims regarding ash from the World Trade Center collapse, and he defended corporations in suits involving Agent Orange, asbestos and silicone breast implants. In what now seems an unfortunate phrase, he was known as the “master of disaster.”