Day 13: Medium-Well or Well Done? Gilbert Grilled on Witness Stand

The 13th day of the trial was bad luck for defendant Joel I. Gilbert, a Balch & Bingham-made millionaire, according to court testimony.

Having had weeks of horrible testimony against him, Gilbert had to testify on the stand.

After Gilbert laid out his autobiography, his defense lawyer threw him softballs questions in which Gilbert denied the bribery charges or even knowing that Oliver Robinson was being paid by his own foundation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney George Martin grilled, skewered, and then demolished Gilbert on the witness stand

The jury was at full attention.

Kyle Whitmire of AL.com tweeted the devastating exchange:

Martin on cross makes that point that there was no doubt that these payments to the Oliver Robinson Foundation were not charitable donations. Gilbert agrees.

Gilbert is sticking by his argument that he …believed Oliver Robinson wasn’t being paid as part of the contract between Balch and the Oliver Robinson Foundation.

Invoices show $5K/month going to “Program Leads.” Gilbert insists that the “OR” in his notes showing $5K going to “OR” meant the Oliver Robinson Foundation, not Oliver Robinson personally.

In emails, Gilbert asked Drummond how they wanted to “handle payment for Oliver? Need to get him paid …” Martin is attacking Gilbert’s insistence that he never knew Oliver Robinson was benefiting personally from their contract with Robinson’s foundation.

Martin asks Gilbert whether, when he spoke with Robinson — while billing Drummond $350/hr — he thought Robinson was doing it out of the goodness of his heart.

Gilbert says he was never aware that Robinson did any work for the foundation. Martin puts emails on the screen showing Gilbert giving directives to Robinson and talking about work Robinson was doing for them.

Martin puts up letter Gilbert wrote for Robinson to send to the Alabama Environmental Management Commission. Gilbert added the words “as a state legislator” to a previous draft, document notes show. Gilbert insists he didn’t know Robinson would represent himself as a lawmaker.

Martin now getting into the timeline: Robinson showed reluctance to speak to AEMC, then Drummond and Balch give him a contract and a check four days before the AEMC meeting, then Robinson speaks to the AEMC.

In a Feb. 2015 email, Gilbert says Balch’s engagement was with Robinson & Robinson Communications, but invoice came from Oliver Robinson Foundation, and Gilbert didn’t know which to write the check to. (Again undermines Gilbert argument he didn’t think OR himself was being paid.)

Martin now asking Gilbert why they scrubbed Oliver Robinson’s name from invoices to Drummond and AJE. Gilbert says it was Drummond’s idea. Gilbert agrees they were hiding it “in a general sense.”

John Archibald of AL.com tweets what appears to be the most damning exchanges:

Gilbert wrote letters for Shelby, Sessions, he said. For Mayor Tuck in Tarrant and resolutions for Jeffco and Tarrant. And more. Only elected official B/B had contract with was Oliver Robinson, he says.

Gilbert acknowledges he didn’t talk to his firm’s “ethics people” (Greg Butrus) until at least a year after he contracted Oliver Robinson. Didn’t tell the “ethics people” Robinson met with EPA and AEMC etc. etc.