Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chevron’s Gibson Dunn Nailed for Unethical Litigation Tactics In Oregon

Yesterday we reported that a U.S. federal judge in Oregon sanctioned Chevron's law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher for harassment of a witness in its campaign to help Chevron evade an $18 billion judgment in Ecuador for massive oil contamination. See here, here and here.

The affidavit, submitted by Oregon lawyer Charles M. Tebbutt outlining these abusive and harassing tactics by a team of Gibson Dunn lawyers, is vivid and disturbing. The level of arrogance of the oil giant's lawyers is just astounding.

Gibson Dunn of course is famous for marketing itself as a master of the dark art of conducting "rescue operations" for clients in trouble. Their lawyers openly state that if the law is in the way, they will try to change it or work around it. In the Chevron case and others, that can mean crossing the ethical line.

Buyer beware: Gibson Dunn's litigation tactics often create more problems for its clients than they solve. Gibson Dunn came into the Ecuador case in 2009; since then, Chevron has been hit with an $18 billion judgment for environmental contamination, been sanctioned by various courts, and now faces even more problems in the coming months as the Ecuadorian plaintiffs position themselves to lawfully seize company assets around the world. On Gibson Dunn's advice, Chevron has gone rogue in Ecuador.

What government is going to want to do business with an oil company that creates open conflict with the governments of oil-producing nations?

A recent argument before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York by Gibson Dunn lawyer Randy Mastro is a case in point in how the Gibson Dunn tactics are backfiring. Mastro took a beating from the panel of judges as they chuckled about his theory that a New York court has jurisdiction to block enforcement of an Ecuadorian judgment in other countries.

Mastro argued the case on a Friday; the next Monday, Chevron's attempt to seek a worldwide injunction blocking enforcement was stayed. It probably didn't help that Mastro interrupted the presiding judge repeatedly, forcing another member of the panel to suggest he sit down.

In 2010, a federal court in Colorado found that Gibson Dunn lawyer Andrew Neumann asked several harassing questions of a technical expert for the plaintiffs in the Ecuador case.

In 2009, Chevron was again fined by a California judge for filing a frivolous lawsuit against Cristobal Bonifaz, a former lawyer for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs. That lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice.

The same Gibson Dunn practice group used by Chevron in the Ecuador case also was hit recently with sanctions from a California judge for filing a frivolous lawsuit to suppress the free speech rights of a filmmaker who made a documentary about how pesticides used by Dole in Central America have poisoned banana workers. Dole is a Gibson Dunn client.

In 2003, the firm was fined a shocking $20 million in Montana for harassing an art expert for failing to raise the appraisal value of a forged painting owned by a firm client. The Montana Supreme Court said Gibson Dunn used "legal thuggery" and acted with "actual malice" in the case.

In legal trouble and partial to thuggery and malice? Do like Chevron and call Gibson Dunn.