Chevron seeks $32 million in fees from environmental lawyer

March 19, 2014: 12:27 PM ET

Having won its civil racketeering case against the attorney who won a $9.5 billion judgment against the oil giant in Ecuador, Chevron is now asking him to pay its attorneys fees. 

<> on July 27, 2012 in San Francisco, California.

It's a good news, bad news situation for New York attorney Steven Donziger today.

Donziger is the lawyer whom Manhattan federal judge Lewis Kaplan found, two weeks ago, to have committed bribery, fraud, obstruction of justice, and other crimes in order to win a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron in an Ecuadorian provincial court in 2011.

The statute under which Chevron sued Donziger, the civil provisions of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), provide that winning plaintiffs "shall" be awarded their reasonable attorneys fees from the defendants.

The good news for Donziger is that Chevron, according to the application it filed this morning, is seeking reimbursement of fees for "only a limited set of activities at the core of its case" in order to "streamline" the court's consideration of its application.

The bad news is that the bill still comes to $32,334,584.

MORE: Chevron wins round against funder of environmental suit in Ecuador

Donziger has denied wrongdoing, has appealed the RICO judgment against him, and yesterday moved to stay the injunctive relief Judge Kaplan imposed upon him and two representative plaintiffs from the underlying Ecuadorian case.

In an email, Donziger's appellate attorney, Deepak Gupta, said this about Chevron's fee petition: "Chevron, one of the world's richest corporations, dropped its damages claims on the eve of trial to deny the Ecuadorians and Steven Donziger their right to a jury trial. Now Chevron is demanding that Steven reimburse Chevron an eye-popping $32 Million for its high-priced lawyers."

"Steven is a solo environmental lawyer," Gupta continues, "who works from the kitchen table of his apartment. Chevron knows he can't actually pay those fees -- and that's the point. This is a transparent attempt to intimidate anyone from ever having the temerity to sue over wrongdoing that, in this case, devastated thousands of people's lives, their culture, and their environment."

MORE: Judge: $9.5 billion Ecuadorian verdict against Chevron was product of bribery

Chevron spokesperson Morgan Crinklaw, in his own statement, says: "Earlier this month, a U.S. Federal Court in New York found that Steven Donziger violated the RICO Act through a pattern of racketeering that included multiple frauds, extortion and obstruction of justice. His scheme covered several years and two continents and required an extensive amount of motion practice, court conferences and hearings, nearly two years of discovery and a seven-week trial to prosecute.  Chevron is seeking to hold Mr. Donziger accountable for his actions by pursuing an award for the legal costs incurred in defending the company from his extortionate scheme and in prosecuting our successful RICO suit – an award mandated by the RICO statute."

According to Chevron's petition, the $32 million it seeks reflect 36,837 hours billed by its lead outside counsel at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, as well as 139,747 hours billed at much lower rates by contract attorneys who handled document review and lesser tasks. The average fee of the Gibson Dunn attorneys who worked on the case—who were led by Randy Mastro and Andrea Neuman—was $950 per hour, according to the petition, while the contract attorneys billed at fees ranging from $60 to $280.

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