Attorney at center of Oliver Robinson trial declares innocence

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A partner at one of Alabama’s leading law firms declared his innocence ahead of being indicted on charges of bribing a state legislator to oppose an environmental cleanup plan.

Federal court documents revealed Thursday Joel Gilbert, partner with Balch & Bingham whose practice is primarily focused on handling environmental litigation, is accused of bribing former state Rep. Oliver Robinson, along with fellow Balch & Bingham attorney Steven McKinney and Drummond Co. Vice President David Roberson.

Ahead of Thursday’s indictment, Jack Sharman, the leader of Lightfoot, Franklin & White law firm’s white-collar defense and corporate investigations practice and Gilbert’s attorney, said Wednesday night his client is innocent. He claims Gilbert did not bribe anyone and that evidence will prove he was simply conducting lawful, routine and ethical work for his client, the Drummond Company.

“This is a case that never should have been brought. Joel represented a client in a legal dispute with the EPA, a powerful and, in this case, over-reaching federal agency,” Sharman said. “Everything he did while representing that client was lawful and ethical.”

Sharman continued, “He is a longtime partner at a leading law firm. A lawyer with a reputation for honesty and integrity, he did what is routine for good counselors to do for corporate and individual clients every day – he engaged a consultant through a written contract to perform real and lawful services.”

“The Government has the burden of proof at trial, not Joel, but the evidence – including emails, text messages, contracts, billing records, environmental testing and witness testimony – will prove that Joel is innocent.”

Read the full statement below:

Joel Gilbert is innocent of these charges. He did not bribe anyone. This is a case that never should have been brought. Joel represented a client in a legal dispute with the EPA, a powerful and, in this case, over-reaching federal agency. Everything he did while representing that client was lawful and ethical. He is a longtime partner at a leading law firm. A lawyer with a reputation for honesty and integrity, he did what is routine for good counselors to do for corporate and individual clients every day – he engaged a consultant through a written contract to perform real and lawful services.

The Government has the burden of proof at trial, not Joel, but the evidence – including emails, text messages, contracts, billing records, environmental testing and witness testimony – will prove that Joel is innocent.

We will tell the whole story at trial. Because of the recent adverse publicity about these events, however, a few basic facts should be noted.

The consulting contract at issue is both lawful and common. Balch & Bingham, Joel’s law firm, entered into a contract with the Oliver Robinson Foundation, on behalf of the firm’s client, Drummond Company, to help with a grassroots effort to understand what EPA was doing in North Birmingham and Tarrant and, where appropriate, to address factual inaccuracies and faulty science. Such contracts and efforts are legal under both federal and state law, including the Alabama Ethics Code. The Alabama Ethics Code is complex, but it explicitly permits public officials, including state legislators and their affiliates, to do consulting work for a fee – the type of arrangement that the Government is now trying to say is criminal.

The records will show that the payments under the contract to the Foundation were for community outreach work performed by the Foundation, not to bribe Mr. Robinson.

If Oliver Robinson did something he was not supposed to with the fees paid to the Foundation for the Foundation’s work, Joel did not know about it or approve of it.

Further, when Oliver Robinson attended a meeting of the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, he did two things. He asked questions and he suggested that, if Drummond was liable for pollution, the company should be held accountable – hardly the actions of a legislator who was improperly influenced. The written transcript of the Commission meeting is clear about these statements.

Joel has more than 15 years of legal experience and is widely respected. The facts will show that he is innocent and that he acted in good faith. He is going to trial. At trial, we will present all of the evidence, not just the fragments of information and innuendo provided we expect will be found in the indictment.

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