Even by the sorry ethical standards of Gibson Dunn's litigation department -- which the Montana Supreme Court recently said uses "legal thuggery" against its adversaries -- it doesn't get much worse than this. The legal press in England is reporting that the main Gibson Dunn partner involved lost his "moral compass" and might face criminal charges. For the extraordinary judicial opinion outlining Gibson Dunn's role in the possible framing of an innocent man, read here.
This latest development is highly relevant to the Ecuador case where allegations that Gibson Dunn also falsified evidence are rapidly gaining currency. Chevron is refusing to release a devastating forensic report that clearly demonstrates its star witness in a U.S. civil racketeering case against lawyers for the Ecuadorian villagers lied in court. Gibson Dunn's goal was to frame the firm's main adversary counsel and paint him as a criminal. That's after a federal judge from Oregon sanctioned one of Chevron's Gibson Dunn lawyers who repeatedly harrassed a small legal non-profit that was assisting the villagers.
The larger point is that the falsification of evidence in the London case appears creepily similar to what Ecuadorian indigenous villagers and their lawyers have experienced with Gibson Dunn. Chevron hired the firm in 2009 to use its notoriously aggressive tactics to try to fend off a large environmental judgment handed down by three layers of courts in its chosen forum of Ecuador. The firm advertises on its website that it mounts "rescue" operations for corporations in trouble. It does this primarily by attacking its opposing counsel rather than by litigating on the merits.
As background, the judgment against Chevron issued in 2011 and was based on 105 technical evidentiary reports meticulously documenting life-threatening levels of pollution at hundreds of former company well sites in the forest. Eight appellate judges in Ecuador affirmed the judgment after 11 years of proceedings despite efforts -- primarily orchestrated by Gibson Dunn -- to sabotage a trial that the oil major clearly was losing on the evidence. Most recently, Ecuador's Supreme Court in 2013 unanimously affirmed Chevron's liability. The company still refuses to pay the judgment and sold its assets in Ecuador as it plays a jurisdictional shell game with courts around the world.
Back to the London case.
The High Court -- one of the world's most respected judicial bodies -- found that lawyers from Gibson Dunn's Dubai office deliberately submitted the transcript of an intercepted phone call with the wrong date as part of the extradition proceeding targeting the citizen of Djibouti. On that basis, the High Court froze the assets of the businessman after concluding he was likely involved in a terrorist act.
Djibouti, a nation of 800,000 people strategically located on the Horn of Africa and home to a U.S. military base, had hired Gibson Dunn to try to force the businessman (Abdourahman Boreh) to return home so he would serve the 15-year sentence handed down after he was tried en absentia. A key piece of evidence was an intercepted phone call involving Boreh where he made vague references to anti-government activity. But for the wrong date, he never could possibly have been tied to the alleged act of terrorism which involved a grenade attack at a supermarket.
It is clear from reading the opinion of the High Court that the case was likely a government shakedown of an opposition political figure. Gibson Dunn was in the thick of things trying to help its client violate the law and put away a political opponent for a long prison term.
What really infuriated the High Court is how Gibson Dunn's lawyers knew the key evidence was the date on the transcript and that it was patently false. Yet several Gibson Dunn lawyers did not correct the date even as they sat through a two-day court hearing. The judge then relied on the wrong date as the basis for his findings.
Gibson Dunn partner Peter Gray was found personally responsible for the deliberate falsification based on emails and other internal law firm communications. (In typical Gibson Dunn fashion, Gray recently was disappeared from the firm's website.) The High Court characterized the Gibson Dunn advocacy as "the use of ambiguity to hide the truth" and said Gray lacked a "moral compass". The law firm apparently never launched an internal investigation of Gray nor reported the ethical violations before the High Court issued its findings.
Amazingly, Gray and his colleagues had characterized their decision not to notify the court about the wrong date as nothing more than "acceptable evasion" in their advocacy. Can you imagine?
That approach is awfully familiar to those who have been litigating against Gibson Dunn in the Ecuador matter. Substitute client Chevron for client Djibouti -- and Gibson Dunn partner Randy Mastro for Gibson Dunn partner Peter Gray -- and you have what appears to be a strikingly similar situation in the United States.
Here, the primary goal of Gibson Dunn was to frame Steven Donziger, Chevron's longtime foe and a human rights attorney who for years has advised the Ecuadorian villagers. We know for a fact Mastro on multiple occasions tried to persuade prosecutors to go after Donziger with false or distorted evidence.
When that gambit failed, Mastro led Chevron's private civil racketeering lawsuit against Donziger and his clients. Gibson Dunn deployed at least 114 lawyers against Donziger (a solo practitioner who for a time acted pro se) in what had to be one of the greatest resource mismatches in litigation history.
From our point of view, the racketeering case was nothing more than a retaliatory SLAPP designed to intimidate Donziger and his colleagues into abandoning the lawsuit in Ecuador. The SLAPP suit was helped along by a federal trial judge who engaged in blatantly biased behavior and who violated international law by trying to overturn the ruling against Chevron from Ecuador's Supreme Court. A previous attempt by the same judge to block enforcement of the Ecuador judgment throughout the world was unanimously reversed on appeal.
(For background on the judge's bias, see this petition. For details of how Chevron made a mockery of justice in the case, see this document and this legal brief from the law firm representing Donziger.)
Gibson Dunn's falsification of evidence in the New York case primarily concerned the testimony of a disgraced former Ecuadorian judge (Alberto Guerra) to whom Chevron paid roughly $2 million. The payments in and of themselves appear to violate federal law barring payments to fact witnesses, but Gibson Dunn charged ahead anyway surely thinking it could get away with it. Guerra openly admitted under oath that he had regularly accepted bribes when he was a judge before being removed from the bench.
After receiving these payments, Guerra suddenly came up with a fantastical story that the judgment in Ecuador was ghostwritten by lawyers for the villagers. Prior to trial, Guerra changed his story multiple times as new forensic evidence rendered his prior versions implausible. Each time he changed his story, Guerra demanded more money from Chevron. His handlers at Gibson Dunn made sure Chevron obliged.
After rehearsing his testimony with the help of Mastro and Gibson Dunn colleague Avi Weitzman for 53 days, Guerra claimed under oath in federal court that the Ecuador judgment was given to the trial judge on a computer from lawyers for the plaintiffs. In reality, Gibson Dunn and its investigators made up the story as forensic evidence and Guerra's own contradictory statements now prove.
According to court papers submitted in a related investor arbitration proceeding, the new forensic evidence -- prepared by the prominent computer expert J. Chrisopher Racich -- demonstrates that the judgment actually was written painstakingly by the trial judge on his office computer over a period of several months. Chevron has refused efforts to release the new forensic report even though it is based on evidence ("mirrors" of the judge's hard drives) that was collected at Chevron's request. (For more background on Chevron's falsification of Guerra's testimony, see this blog about a story from Courthouse News and this legal motion about Guerra's lies.)
Also interesting is that Gibson Dunn's private investigative agency of choice -- Kroll -- was heavily involved in both the London and Ecuador cases. In the Ecuador matter, Kroll investigators (led by Yohir Ackerman) along with Chevron lawyer Andres Rivero paid Guerra tens of thousands of dollars out of suitcase and asked him to offer a $1 million starter payment to bribe the trial judge to "recant" his decision against the company. Kroll worked hand in hand with Gibson Dunn to create Guerra's story. In the Boreh case, Kroll operatives were in several key meetings where the issue of the false date was discussed.
Gibson Dunn lawyers led by Mastro were among those who directly worked with Guerra to prepare his testimony. Mastro personally negotiated Guerra's money deal in a meeting in Chicago. Many other lawyers at the firm's New York office were involved. Some of the most prominent include Andrea Neumann, Weitzman, and Reed Brodsky.
Of course, Peter Gray is not simply one bad apple at Gibson Dunn as the firm no doubt would like the world to believe. His unsavory and unethical tactics against Mr. Boreh are part and parcel of the very culture in the firm's litigation department as confirmed by multiple courts around the world.
In the Ecuador case, we already mentioned that a federal judge from Oregon found that Gibson Dunn associate Kristin Hendricks had repeatedly used the discovery process to harass her adversary counsel. In Colorado, Gibson Dunn lawyer Neumann was found to have misled the court on a critical issue. Gibson Dunn also threatened judges in Ecuador with jail if they did not rule in Chevron's favor -- earning a sharp rebuke from appellate judges in that country.
Want more evidence that Gibson Dunn's litigation culture has gone rotten? Just look at the company's track record in recent years:
**In 2007, the Montana Supreme Court assessed a $9.9 million punitive fine against Gibson Dunn for "blatantly and maliciously trying to intimidate [its adversary] with the apparent power, prestige and resources of a large, nationally prominent law firm coupled with an ominous lawsuit that they knew threatened to ruin and devastate [the opposition] professionally, personally, and financially… GDC's use of the judicial system amounts to legal thuggery".
**In 2005, a federal court in California sanctioned Gibson Dunn for firm's discovery misconduct, including tampering with a third-party witness. The court concluded that the firm's misconduct is "a product of a culture which permeates the portion of Gibson Dunn & Crtucher involved in this matter. That culture promoted obstruction, gamesmanship and flagrant disregard of this Court's orders to result in increased discovery abuses and to smear the legal profession and standards to which attorneys are to be held".
**In 2008, a New York federal judge sanctioned the firm for hiding a key document in discovery that would have helped its adversary. The court found the firm had engaged in "unacceptable shenanigans" by making "affirmative representations… that were deceptive".
**In 2010, a state court in California in two separate cases ordered Gibson Dunn to reimbure a documentary filmmaker and a human rights lawyer for their costs in defending illegitimate lawsuits designed to silence their criticism of the firm's clients (Chevron was a client in one of the cases).
We also know that Gibson Dunn lawyers (led primarily by Newman and Scott Edelman) engaged in highly questionable conduct in the firm's representation of Dole from lawsuits from banana field workers in Nicaragua. That work also included payments to fact witnesses in the banana fields to claim supposed "fraud" to undermine a U.S. court judgment against Dole. Court papers claimed the firm made up a meeting between lawyers for the workers and the trial judge that never actually happened.
With Gibson Dunn's narrative about the Ecuador case crumbling before our eyes, look for the firm's unethical tactics to come to the fore even more in the coming months. We believe it is just a matter of time before Gibson Dunn itself is put under hot lights of judicial scrutiny for its representation of Chevron -- representation that reportedly has reaped the firm record sums in fees.
Whether the money was worth it for Team Mastro and Gibson Dunn is clearly a question that will be resolved with time.