A year later, Balch Partners Headed to Criminal Trial

Today marks one year since Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Archibald and Kyle Whitmire of the Alabama Media Group broke the story about the Oliver Robinson bribery scandal.

Now for an update.

The indicted Balch & Bingham partners, Steven McKinney and Joel I. Gilbert, lost a preliminary court fight, and will head to a criminal jury trial next month. Bloomberg reported this week:

A jury will decide whether a corporate executive and two Alabama lawyers bribed a state legislator to head off a company’s Superfund liability, a federal court in Alabama ruled May 4.

The defendants allegedly sought to forestall potential environmental liability by paying the legislator to portray EPA cleanup plans as federal overreach—an unusual scenario in Superfund-related litigation that typically occurs in civil, not criminal, courts.

The court rejected defense arguments that McDonnell v. United States, a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling narrowly defining “official acts” in federal bribery cases, barred the prosecution.

The allegations here were supported by three “official acts” by Robinson, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama said.

They included a meeting with EPA officials at which Robinson opposed the EPA plan, his communications with state environmental officers, and his vote to advance a resolution calling on the state attorney general “to combat the EPA’s overreach,” the court said.

Arguments that the prosecution also impinged on protected political speech fared no better.

There was “no indication that the government targeted the defendants because of their speech,” as opposed to their conduct, the court said.