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Chevron Wins Another Round in Ecuador Fraud Case: Case Against Oil Company in $19B Pollution Case Collapsing

Chevron continues to battle charges against the oil company in Ecuador and win victory after courtroom victory against Steven Donziger and the plaintiffs in the fraudulent case of pollution in the Amazon region of Ecuador.

Just yesterday, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice stayed an action initiated by the Ecuadorian plaintiffs seeking to have a judgment of an Ecuadorian court against Chevron Corp. [NYSE: CVX] recognized and enforced in Ontario.

This latest success for Chevron comes right after a series of blockbuster announcements by former members of Donziger’s plaintiffs’ team who have now switched sides and joined Chevron, announcing the work they did for Donziger and the Ecuadorian was fabricated or faulty because they, too, were misled by Donziger.

Add to these recent announcements that a former Ecuadorian judge revealed that he accepted bribes from the plaintiffs’ team along with another Ecuadorian judge to draft rulings in favor of the plaintiffs and you have a lawsuit that is a better read than anything John Grisham has ever written.

The Canadian court ruled yesterday in the case and wrote:

“The plaintiffs (Steven Donziger, Ecuadorians) have no hope of success in their assertion that the corporate veil of Chevron Canada should be pierced and ignored so that its assets become exigible to satisfy a judgment against its ultimate parent.  There is no basis in law or fact for such a claim.… Ontario courts should be reluctant to dedicate their resources to disputes where, in dollar and cents terms, there is nothing to fight over.  In my view, the parties should take their fight elsewhere to some jurisdiction where any ultimate recognition of the Ecuadorean judgment will have a practical effect.”

In response, Chevron Corporation issued the following statement:

“We are pleased with today’s decision from Justice Brown. The Ontario Superior Court ruled that it ought not to entertain the plaintiffs’ claims on the evidence before the court. This is a significant setback to the Ecuadorian plaintiffs’ worldwide enforcement strategy given that it is premised on seeking to enforce the judgment against assets of Chevron Corporation subsidiaries that were not even parties to the Ecuadorian litigation.”

“The plaintiffs should be seeking enforcement in the United States – where Chevron Corporation resides.  In the U.S., however, they would be confronted by the fact that eight federal courts have already found the Ecuador trial tainted by fraud.”

Meanwhile, Chevron Corp. has made additional notable progress in the legal proceedings in the United States exposing the fraudulent nature of the plaintiffs’ judgment.  This evidence further demonstrates that the judgment is illegitimate and should be unenforceable in any court that respects the rule of law.  Evidence of the plaintiffs’ fraud includes:

  • A former Ecuadorian judge has admitted his role in orchestrating the fraudulent judgment against Chevron and a half-million-dollar bribery scheme.
  • Stratus Consulting, the lead environmental consultants to the Ecuadorian plaintiffs’ lawyers, provided sworn declarations (here and here), highlighting the lack of scientific merit to the plaintiffs’ damage claims.
  • Another of the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ environmental consultants, Dr. Charles Calmbacher, has testified that plaintiffs’ evidence was being falsified from the very outset of the trial.
  • Litigation hedge fund Burford Capital has provided a sworn declaration outlining the firm’s knowledge of the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ misconduct, testifying that the proceeding is irredeemably tainted by fraud.

Chevron Corp. remains committed to holding the plaintiffs’ lawyers accountable for their misconduct and demonstrating the judgment is the product of a corrupted judiciary.

Chevron Corp. is defending itself against false allegations that it is responsible for alleged environmental and social harms in the Oriente region of Ecuador.  Chevron never conducted oil production operations in Ecuador, and its subsidiary Texaco Petroleum Co. (“TexPet”) fully remediated its share of environmental impacts arising from oil production operations, before leaving Ecuador in 1992.  After the remediation was certified by all agencies of the Ecuadorian government responsible for oversight, TexPet received a complete release from Ecuador’s national, provincial, and municipal governments that extinguished all claims before Chevron acquired TexPet in 2001.  All legitimate scientific evidence exonerates Chevron and proves that the remediated sites pose no significant risks to human health or the environment.

More information on the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ fraud can be found here.  Additional background on the Ecuador litigation can be accessed here and here.

 

Chevron is one of the world’s leading integrated energy companies, with subsidiaries that conduct business worldwide. The company is involved in virtually every facet of the energy industry.  Chevron explores for, produces and transports crude oil and natural gas; refines, markets and distributes transportation fuels and lubricants; manufactures and sells petrochemical products; generates power and produces geothermal energy; provides energy efficiency solutions; and develops the energy resources of the future, including biofuels.  Chevron is based in San Ramon, Calif.  More information about Chevron is available at www.chevron.com.

 

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Patton Boggs’ Partner James Tyrrell, Jr., Lied to Burford Capital in Chevron Ecuador Litigation

 

 

James E. Tyrrell, Jr.: Liar says Burford Investment Company

 

In the latest in a series of bombshell filings, Chevron today submitted a 26-page sworn declaration from the CEO of Burford Capital, a $300 million, publicly traded fund that in late 2010 agreed to finance Patton Boggs’s representation of the plaintiffs bringing an environmental suit against Chevron in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.

 

In it Burford CEO Christopher Bogart says his firm would never have invested in the case were it not for “false and misleading representations” made not only by Steve Donziger, the Lago Agrio team’s longtime New York lawyer, but also by Patton Boggs, a prominent Washington-based, AmLaw 100 law firm that agreed to take on the plaintiffs’ troubled environmental suit in February 2010 on a partial contingency basis. (Read the full declaration here.)

 

Burford relied on a misleading analysis of the case made by Patton Boggs partner James Tyrrell, Jr., with whom, Bogart says, Burford had a “‘special’ and multifaceted relationship” at the time. Most of the misrepresentations Bogart alleges concern the extent to which Patton Boggs already knew that a crucial damages assessment drafted by a purportedly “neutral and independent” court-appointed expert in the case had, in reality, been secretly ghost-written by the Lago Agrio plaintiffs lawyers themselves.

 

Emails seeking comment from Tyrrell and other Patton Boggs attorneys were not immediately returned. Nor were emails to Donziger’s counsel, John Keker (who is in a court proceeding this morning).

 

Lago Agrio plaintiff team’s spokesperson, Bill Hamilton of Fenton Communications said that “in the final analysis, this … is just more of Chevron’s non-stop Big Money attempt to intimidate and malign the Lago Agrio plaintiffs and their lawyers and supporters. It has no bearing on what happened in Ecuador, does nothing to remediate the harm that even Chevron has admitted took place in the Amazon and constitutes a side show that will not stop efforts to attach Chevron properties in Argentina, Canada, Brazil, and around the world.” He asserted that Burford’s allegation of misconduct by the plaintiffs is “at its core, just a dispute about money.”)

 

Because an Ecuadorian provincial court issued an $18.2 billion judgment against Chevron in February 2011 — later bumped up to $19 billion—Patton Boggs theoretically stands to collect hundreds of millions of dollars if the judgment can ever be enforced. The plaintiffs’ team is currently attempting to enforce it foreign courts, including those of Canada and Argentina.

 

Chevron is currently considering whether to bring fraud charges against Patton Boggs, the company stated in a Manhattan federal court filing Friday, and will make up its mind by May 10.

On October 31, 2010, Burford gave the plaintiffs $4 million in financing as the first tranche in what was planned to become a $15 million investment in the case. In exchange it received a 1.5% stake of any recovery, which was to rise to a 5.5% stake upon full funding.

But on February 1, 2011, Chevron (CVX) filed a civil RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) suit in Manhattan federal court against Donziger, the Amazon Defense Fund, and others key figures involved in the Lago Agrio case, alleging wire fraud, extortion, money laundering, and obstruction of justice. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan issued a preliminary injunction in March in a 131-page, 434-footnote ruling that detailed the disturbing state of the evidence against Donziger and his Ecuadorian collegues on the case at the time. (The injunction was later vacated on appeal jurisdictional grounds unrelated to Kaplan’s factual findings.) Burford never made any follow-up investments.

 

Although Burford quickly resold most of its stake in the case in December 2010, it retained until today an upside interest in the outcome of the lawsuit. With today’s settlement, however, Burford turns that remaining stake over to Chevron. In this morning’s joint press release, Bogart says, “Burford stands by its clients in the face of aggressive litigation tactics by their opponents, but Burford does not sit still for being deceived or defrauded and has no interest in profiting from such conduct.”

 

In Bogart’s affidavit he argues that Burford was especially inclined to credit Tyrrell’s assessments of the case because of Tyrrell’s “special relationship” with the firm. To begin with, he writes, Tyrrell was, as a former partner at Latham & Watkins, close friends of four former Latham partners who then occupied senior positions at Burford.

 

“Tyrrell was also an advocate and enthusiast of litigation funding,” Bogart continues, extending “support to start-up funders.” For instance, Patton Boggs was providing Burford with rent-free office space at its New York office, which Tyrrell heads, at the time the Lago Agrio investment was negotiated, Bogart writes.

 

Last month Judge Kaplan ordered Patton Boggs to make voluminous productions of documents, finding that any attorney client privilege that might apply would be pierced due to the “crime fraud exception,” which applies when there is evidence that documents were made in furtherance of a crime or fraud. Though Judge Kaplan made no finding as to whether Patton Boggs itself had any actual knowledge of any crime or fraud, his 73-page ruling was tart in its rejection of the firm’s portrayal of itself as an unrelated outsider who, if it complied with the subpoena, would be forced to incur excessive and burdensome costs.

 

He wrote: “Here, [Patton Boggs] was well aware of Chevron’s fraud allegations when it joined the [Lago Agrio plaintiffs] team — indeed it was brought on to combat them — and understood Chevron’s intention to fight this matter vigorously. Any failure to have anticipated that its involvement could lead to discovery obligations and expenditures on its own behalf, if there was such a failure, would have reflected an uncommon lack of foresight.”

 

Burford’s investment in the controversial case — which, like most such investments, remained secret until disclosed through ancillary U.S. litigation brought by Chevron — was the subject of a May 2011 Fortune feature story which had been highly critical of the investment firm. (See Have you got a piece of this lawsuit?)

While at least four federal court judges had already found “prima facie” evidence of fraud by the plaintiffs team at the time Burford invested, the quality and quantity of that evidence has strengthened geometrically since the filing of Chevron’s RICO case. Last July U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan ruled that “uncontradicted evidence” showed that the case had been “unquestionably … tainted” by this fraud. (See Chevron claims Patton Boggs tried to cover up a fraud)

 

In addition, Chevron has now also presented in its RICO case substantial evidence indicating that the entire 188-page, $18.2 billion judgment ruling was ghostwritten by the Ecuadorian plaintiffs lawyers themselves — an opportunity that was allegedly accorded to them after they agreed to pay two Ecuadorian judges $500,000 from the anticipated recovery. Chevron has shown, for instance, that at least one third of the judgment contains material that was lifted from internal plaintiffs memoranda that were never made part of the record in the case, and it has submitted an extensively corroborated affidavit from one of the two Ecuadorian judges in question.

 

(In reply, the Lago Agrio plaintiffs team submitted an unnotarized declaration from the other former judge, the titular author of the ruling, Nicolas Zambrano. In it Zambrano says he wrote the ruling himself and denies having accepted any bribe offer. But the Lago Agrio plaintiffs team has also indicated that Zambrano will probably refuse to submit to a deposition backing up his claim, rendering his declaration’s legal value dubious. Further, in his declaration Zambrano makes no attempt to explain away the voluminous corroborating evidence of ghostwriting that Chevron has submitted.

 

Similarly, in a terse, carefully worded affidavit the Lago Agrio plaintiffs’ chief U.S. lawyer Donziger has denied personal involvement in or knowledge of bribery or ghostwriting of the judgment, but has not denied that bribery and ghostwriting may have occurred. The other Amazon Defense Front defendants have defaulted by failing to appear in the RICO suit.)

 

Finally, just last week, the plaintiffs team’s environmental experts, Stratus Consulting of Boulder, Colo., recanted all its scientific findings and conclusions in the case in exchange for being dropped as a defendant in the RICO suit. Its officials expressed regret for having “allowed the firm to be used the way it was.” (The Lago Agrio plaintiffs say Chevron “bullied” Stratus into the recantation by threatening it with “financial extinction.”)

 

By Roger Parloff, senior editor, Fortune Magazine

 

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