Ecuadorian villagers are taking legal action against their former counsel at Patton Boggs, which could dash the lobbying firm’s hopes of merging with international law giant Squire Sanders.
Steven Donziger, a lawyer for the Amazon Defense Front, claims that Patton Boggs “sold its clients down the river” by settling with oil giant Chevron for $15 million earlier this month. The group filed a motion to intervene in the Chevron settlement on Wednesday.
Patton Boggs worked for the indigenous farmers from a region in the Amazon called Lago Agrio since 2010 in their pursuit of a multibillion-dollar pollution settlement from Chevron handed down from an Ecuadorian court.
A federal judge in New York ruled in March that the verdict had been obtained through corruption, labeling Donziger a “racketeer.”
Chevron then filed suit against Patton Boggs, alleging that it helped to cover up the fraudulent evidence used in South America.
Patton Boggs initially dismissed the ruling and vowed to fight the “meritless” claims. But earlier this month it agreed to an eight-figure settlement and distanced itself from its former clients. It also agreed to turn over documents involved in the case to the oil giant.
The Ecuadorian plaintiffs are still trying to collect money from Chevron in courts located in Canada, Brazil and Argentina, because the company no longer has any assets in Ecuador.
Donziger calls the move unethical, saying Patton fell “victim” to the oil giant’s threats to use its “bottomless war chest” to ensnare it in litigation.
“That Patton Boggs did this to pave the way for a merger with another law firm ... that is, to secure a benefit for its partnership at the expense of its own clients — makes the violations all the more troubling,” the motion, filed by Donziger, reads.
Representatives at Squire Sanders did not respond to requests for comment, but late Thursday afternoon Patton Boggs filed a document with the court, asking it to stop the intervention.
"Given that there is no relief that the proposed intervenors could hope to achieve through this motion, it seems clear that the objective… is simply to generate publicity and cast a cloud over Patton Boggs," the filing says.
Claims that the firm has defected to its former clients' opponent, Chevron, are false, writes Elkan Abranowitz, the lawyer for Patton Boggs' from the firm Morvillo Abranowitz Grand Iason & Anello. The settlement agreement only allows for "limited discovery" that's overseen by the court, documents say.
"Patton Boggs has behaved ethically in all respects, including with respect to its decision to conclude its limited attorney-client relationship" with the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, Abranowitz asserts.
-- This post was updated at 6:15 p.m. to include the new documents filed by Patton Boggs.