North Birmingham Bribery Case

Day 10: Balch Junior Attorneys Testify; Phillips Shredded; Matrix’s Mail Drop

Today, the testimonies from a former and current attorney at Balch & Bingham were insightful and could mean trouble for the defendants.

Ex-Balch & Bingham attorney Talmadge Simpson (pictured left) who was, to some observers,  a superb example of junior attorneys that appear to have no idea when they are being used (or abused) in an alleged criminal scheme by Balch bosses.

Simpson’s testimony this morning seemed in a way to be a long-held, sigh of relief after being in the dark about the alleged criminal conduct. He was both confident and relieved, according to our sources in the courthouse.

Kyle Whitmire of AL.com tweeted:

Simpson testifies about how he attended AEMC meetings for Balch, how he worked on public records requests, how he wrote a newsletter for Balch clients. Simpson says he didn’t know Balch had a contract with Robinson until “@aldotcom blasted it out there for the world to see.”

Jon Paepcke of WVTM 13 tweeted:

Simpson said it was not uncommon for him to not know about everything going on behind the scenes at B&B. The firm probably had more than 100 environmental clients during the time he was working with Drummond. Simpson said he never met David Roberson during the 700 hours he spent working on Drummond issues.

AL.com reported:

Simpson was assigned to attend the February 2015 meeting where Robinson spoke. Simpson said he wasn’t aware Gilbert had asked Robinson to attend and speak, or that Gilbert had offered the representative talking points. During firm meetings and through his work on the Drummond issues, Simpson had never heard Robinson’s name mentioned, he said.

Now that he doesn’t work at Balch, Simpson may have inadvertently exemplified the frustration and disappointment  that honest, hard-working,  ethical and professional attorneys at Balch quietly may feel now days: Am I being used as a tool for alleged unscrupulous or criminal conduct?

The last person to testify today was, another junior attorney at Balch, Patrick Runge (pictured right).

Whitmire tweeted:

Runge worked in the environmental and natural resources division at Balch with Joel Gilbert, worked on the Superfund issues with Drummond…. Runge’s work included drafting comments and letters to the EPA. (Did the ghostwriter have a ghostwriter?)….Runge says he didn’t know Balch had hired Oliver Robinson, was never told, even though he worked closely with Gilbert and focused on Superfund issues. Gilbert asked him to write a joint resolution for the Alabama Legislature.

So what does this mean? Runge, too, appears to have been completely in the dark while closely working for the “big dogs” at Balch & Bingham. Runge affirms what Simpson said.

But the bookend testimony today also spells serious trouble for indicted Balch partners Joel Gilbert and Steven McKinney, for the prosecution is showing how they consistently kept the so-called community outreach and “hiring” of corrupt, bought-and-paid-for politician Oliver Robinson, a secret, among themselves and never shared it with their closest junior attorneys working on the same North Birmingham matter.

After the lunch break, appearing on the witness stand in the afternoon was Scott Phillips, “the CEO of Strada Professional Services, former AEMC member who was contracting with Balch and gave GASP documents to Balch ahead of an AEMC meeting,” according to Whitmire.

Phillips appears to be at Day 10 one of the worst witnesses,  and looks like he damaged his own role as anything but innocent. Phillips was shredded by the media.

Whitmire tweeted about some of the fascinating testimony:

Phillips now going over his former company’s proposal to Balch. SE&C was hired by Balch to help push back on EPA cleanup initiative in north Birmingham. Phillips testifies that his company was hired by Balch on behalf of Drummond Co. In Dec. 2014, Phillips received emails from Balch that showed Oliver Robinson was working for them. Phillips says he doesn’t remember seeing the email.

Phillips says that Roberson and Gilbert asked him to introduce Robinson to AEMC chair Lanier Brown. Despite being sent multiple emails that indicate Robinson was working with Balch, Phillips insists that he knew only of his role as a state lawmaker, not as any kind of consultant for Balch.

Phillips says, when Robinson spoke to the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, he believed Robinson was there as a state lawmaker, did not know of Robinson’s contract with Balch.

Then Whitmire puts the cherry on top:

My eyes just rolled so hard they made a noise.

AL.com’s John Archibald also shredded Phillips, tweeting:

Disclosure: Phillips opens his mouth. Stuff comes out. I believe little of it. This guy was involved in every aspect of fighting EPA north Birmingham cleanup — including being on a state regulatory commission and being paid big money to fight it. And he claims to know nothing.

Then finally came Matrix’s CEO Jeff Pitts in the late afternoon.  Matrix is a political consulting firm that has a reputation of playing hardball.

Whitmire tweeted:

Pitts says defendant Steve McKinney first reached out to him about the north Birmingham Superfund site. Pitts says he’s known Gilbert and Roberson for a decade “both personally and professionally.”

McKinney appears to have finally spearheaded something in this alleged criminal scheme.

Archibald tweeted:

Pitts testified that Matrix helped send out th[e] letters purporting to be [from] the “grass roots” group Get Smart Tarrant. Which was really an arm of Balch and Drummond.

And who wrote the AstroTurf letters? Gilbert, the prolific ghost-writer extraordinaire? Whitmire tweets:

“I don’t think they nailed that down, but Pitts said they came either from Gilbert or Roberson. He couldn’t remember which one.”


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