Keker allowed in Chevron's lawsuit over Ecuador issue

Jessica M. Karmasek Mar. 10, 2011, 11:58am


NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - A U.S. District judge has granted a motion to allow a high-profile attorney to represent defendant and New York City-based plaintiffs' lawyer Steven Donziger pro hac vice in a case against Chevron Corp.

Chevron, in a 15-page motion filed Saturday, said it was opposed to having John W. Keker defend Donziger. Attorneys file pro hac vice motions when they seek to practice in a jurisdiction in which they have not been admitted.

Keker was the attorney for prominent Mississippi attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs during two judicial bribery cases. Scruggs pleaded guilty to both and received 7 1/2 years in prison.

Federal prosecutors charged Scruggs with offering $50,000 to Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey in exchange for a ruling compelling arbitration in a dispute over attorneys fees earned in Hurricane Katrina cases.

They also charged Scruggs, whose brother-in-law is former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, with offering consideration for a federal judgeship to former Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Bobby DeLaughter. DeLaughter allegedly took the deal and entered a favorable ruling in a dispute over fees between Scruggs and his former business partners in asbestos litigation.

Admission pro hac vice, Chevron argued, "is not a right but a privilege, the granting of which rest(s) in the sound discretion of the presiding judge."

"The conduct of Mr. Keker and his law firm provides ample grounds to deny him that privilege," the company wrote in its motion.

Chevron argued that Keker and his firm violated the court's Feb. 8 order, which required the filing on or before Feb. 11 of all papers in opposition to Chevron's preliminary injunction motion, and violated the court's local rules.

In addition, the company contended that Keker and his firm filed a "frivolous" application to transfer the case and made misleading and false assertions in their Feb. 25 submission.

Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, for the Southern District of New York, in a two-page order filed Wednesday, said the Feb. 25 filing was made in direct violation of the court's orders and local rules.

"The fact that the Keker firm was not retained until after the papers were due did not justify it in ignoring the orders and rules," he wrote. "If it felt that the Court erred in fixing the schedule, its remedy was an appeal from the preliminary injunction, not disobedience."

The application to transfer the case, Kaplan said, which was already denied by the court, was "utterly without merit for reasons explained in that ruling."

However, the judge said there was no evidence before the court on the present motion that shows Keker "knowingly" made false or misleading statements in the Feb. 25 submission, "even assuming arguendo that inaccurate or misleading statements were made."

"If there were inaccuracies, the court is confident that Mr. Keker will be more careful in the future. It also trusts that he henceforth will conform his actions and those of his firm to the requirements of the rules and the court.

"While the court has ample means of dealing with any future problems, it hopes that there will not be any."

Last month, Chevron filed a lawsuit against the group of trial lawyers and consultants who, it says, are leading a fraudulent litigation and public relations campaign against the company under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, Act and other state and federal laws.

Chevron's RICO claim addresses what it calls "pervasive misconduct" relating to the defendants' efforts to extort money from the company "using the pendency of a lawsuit in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, directed and funded by American trial lawyers and their allies," Chevron said in a statement.

The company's suit alleges that the defendants, and certain "non-party co-conspirators," have used the Ecuador lawsuit to threaten Chevron, mislead U.S. government officials, and harass and intimidate Chevron employees -- all to extort a financial settlement from the company.

Among those named in Chevron's suit are Donziger; his Ecuadorian colleagues Pablo Fajardo and Luis Yanza; their front organizations, the Amazon Defense Front and Selva Viva; and Stratus Consulting, a Boulder, Colo.-based consulting firm retained by the plaintiffs' lawyers to "secretly prepare a damages report that was then presented as having been written by an allegedly independent, court-appointed expert," the company said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at

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