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Legal Ethics

Chevron Sues Plaintiffs Lawyer for $4M, Alleges Malicious Prosecution

Posted Nov 17, 2009 5:51 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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After making headlines several months ago by posting a video on YouTube to bolster its defense of an Ecuador-based environmental mass tort case, Chevron is again trying an unusual litigation tactic in a closely related case.

The company has sued a plaintiffs attorney for $4 million in federal court in San Francisco, contending that an environmental claim he filed amounted to malicious prosecution, reports the American Lawyer in an article reprinted in New York Lawyer (reg. req.).

Chevron's suit concerns an environmental case filed in federal court in San Francisco by Massachusetts practitioner Cristobal Bonifaz in conjunction with a convoluted multinational litigation effort in Ecuador and the United States that has gone on for more than a decade.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup granted the oil company's motion for summary judgment in the San Francisco case in 2007 and ordered Bonifaz to pay $45,000 to Chevron, the legal publication recounts.

But "this is a frivolous lawsuit with absolutely no merit," says attorney John Bonifaz, who is the son of Cristobal Bonifaz, of Chevron's filing on Friday. "The judge made clear that a mistake was made, but the idea that there was any malicious prosecution is offensive on its face. Chevron has gone off the rails here."

Related litigation still ongoing in Ecuador, where the plaintiffs contend Texaco caused some $27 billion in environmental damage between 1964 and 1992, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Chevron inherited the case by purchasing Texaco in 2001.

By pursuing Bonifaz, even though he is now disassociated from the current plaintiffs lawyers in the case, the oil company apparently is seeking to discredit the ongoing litigation in Ecuador, the newspaper says.

"The larger scheme is a long-standing and ongoing unlawful effort by Bonifaz and other lawyers and entities to extort money from Chevron by blaming it for harms that are as nonexistent as the false cancer claims," states the oil company's complaint against Bonifaz. The Am Law Daily provides a link to the complaint (PDF).

The current plaintiffs lawyers in the Ecuador litigation didn't respond to the newspaper's request for comment.

Related earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Chevron Takes Pollution Case Bias Issue to Feds, Ecuador Officials—and YouTube"

ABAJournal.com: "After Chevron Posts YouTube Video, Ecuador Judge Steps Down in $27B Case"

ABAJournal.com: "Man Who Gave Judge Video to Chevron in $27B Ecuador Case a Convicted Felon"

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