DC firm shaking down Chevron learns lesson about poking the bear

There’s been a new, and some might say long overdue twist in the ongoing saga of Ecuador’s Chevron shakedown. We’ve been covering this story here since January of 2011 and it’s been a wild roller coaster ride. From the time the environmental groups involved were initially awarded a huge payday in a kangaroo court, we’ve seen blatant fraud uncovered on the part of the plaintiffs, “investors” in the lawsuit claiming they were defrauded, and the judge in the case admitting that he was bribed.

Through it all, one law firm in DC, Patton Boggs, has been nipping at Chevron’s heels on their own behalf, as well as supporting the people trying to pick Chevron’s pockets. But as CNN reports, you can only push somebody so many times before they push back.

Since late 2010, Washington, D.C. law firm Patton Boggs has been poking a sleeping tiger. It has filed three peculiar federal lawsuits — in its own name, not on behalf of any client — against Chevron, the third-largest corporation in the United States. These cases have fared poorly; two were quickly dismissed, and a federal magistrate judge recommended tossing the third in March.

On Friday, the tiger awoke. Chevron (CVX) sought a federal judge’s permission to bring counterclaims against the 455-lawyer firm for alleged fraud and deceit for its conduct in representing the Amazon Defense Front, which obtained a $19 billion environmental judgment against the oil giant in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, in February 2011. Chevron also seeks to charge the firm with “malicious prosecution” for having pursued its three lawsuits in bad faith. Chevron seeks to hold the law firm liable for any damages Chevron suffers from the Front’s allegedly fraud-infested litigation, plus punitive and treble damages.

Patton Boggs is already taking to the media beat to try to portray themselves as “the little guy” who is suffering under the energy giant’s attempts to “intimidate” them because they dared to help save the rain forests or whatever. But given their track record on this issue thus far, it seems unlikely that they’re going to fare much better this time around. Chevron has won one round after another over the last two years, demonstrating the massive conspiracy going on which attempted to extort literally billions of dollars from them.

There was a time when such nuisance suits were profitable, and big companies would often pony up some significant amount of cash for dubious claims rather than spending the time and money – not to mention the risk of negative public relations – required to defend themselves in court. But the amazingly greedy nature of this shakedown was clearly a bridge too far. And not only is the Amazon Defense Front coming up on the short end of the stick, but one of the American law firms engaging in this practice may wind up paying a hefty sum for their involvement.

The worm may just be turning.