Patton Boggs Pushes Back Against Gibson Dunn, Chevron

Mike Scarcella
Friday, January 14, 2011

Patton Boggs wants to keep representing plaintiffs in a human rights and environmental action against Chevron Corp. Standing in the way of that continued legal work is the oil giant itself. The law firm this week filed court papers in Washington's federal trial court urging a judge to strike Chevron's effort to throw out a suit the firm filed in connection to the human rights litigation against Chevron.

Chevron’s lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher argue a conflict of interest should bar Patton Boggs from representing the plaintiffs in the long-running suit, which is pending in Ecuador and which has collateral proceedings in federal district court in the United States. Patton Boggs began representing the plaintiffs last year. Within days, Chevron’s lawyers told Patton Boggs there’s an apparent conflict and threatened disqualification, according to the law firm.

That conflict, according to Chevron’s attorneys, stems from the work former U.S. senators Trent Lott and John Breaux performed for the Breaux Lott Leadership Group prior to Patton Boggs’ acquisition of the lobbying firm. Lott and Breaux, lobbyists for Chevron, lobbied in connection with the renewal of a trade treaty with Ecuador. Chevron’s lawyers, including Gibson partner Thomas Hungar, said the company shared “substantial amounts of confidential information with them” concerning litigation strategy.

Patton Boggs sued Chevron in November in Washington’s federal trial court in response to the oil company’s “threat to disqualify” the firm from representing the plaintiffs in the human rights and environmental action against Chevron. The firm’s suit seeks a declaration that there is no conflict of interest. On Jan. 12, Patton Boggs lawyers filed court papers [.pdf] asking Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. to strike Chevron’s motion to dismiss [.pdf] the suit. In Chevron’s motion, filed in December, lawyers for the company said individual courts across the country should determine whether disqualification is appropriate.

The Patton Boggs team said in the court papers that Breaux and Lott, who are both attorneys, were “pure” lobbyists for Chevron and that their shop did not provide legal services. There was no attorney-client relationship between the lobbying shop and Chevron, according to Patton Boggs partner Charles Talisman.

“Chevron, a sophisticated multi-national conglomerate employing scores of attorneys on this matter alone, is well aware of the difference between lobbying services and legal representation,” Talisman said in court papers. The alleged “threat” to disqualify Patton Boggs is part of an “ongoing campaign to ward off anyone who would dare provide aid to the Lago Agrio Plaintiffs,” Talisman said. “It has become quite clear that the company will not be content until there remains no attorney left in this country who will represent the Lago Agrio Plaintiffs, lest that attorney’s good name be dragged through the mud,” Talisman said. “But trying to prevent these Plaintiffs from obtaining representation through intimidation and threats is not an acceptable way to defend a case. This abuse must end.”

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