A Jefferson County Circuit Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the Balch & Bingham law firm filed by a former coal executive who claimed the law firm’s poor legal advice resulted in his conviction on federal bribery charges.
Judge Tamara Harris Johnson ruled that the statute of limitations had expired on former Drummond Coal vice president David Roberson’s $50 million lawsuit against Balch and his former employer, Drummond.
The suit claimed that Balch attorneys, primarily Joel Gilbert, who was also convicted of federal bribery charges, assured Roberson that a plan to recruit then-State Rep. Oliver Robinson to use his office to thwart efforts by the EPA to clean up toxic soil in the 35th Avenue Superfund site in North Birmingham was legal.
Johnson’s ruling dismissing the lawsuit against Balch didn’t dispute Roberson’s claims but said that under the Alabama Legal Service Liability Action statute, Roberson should have filed his claim no later than November 2018. He filed it in March 2019.
“All claims against defendant Balch & Bingham are barred by the statute of limitations,” Johnson wrote.
Johnson said a motion to dismiss filed by Drummond will be addressed separately at a later date.
Roberson and Gilbert were the only two executives found guilty by a jury in October 2018 in the well-publicized federal case that saw Robinson plead guilty and go to prison for accepting bribes.
Roberson maintained his innocence throughout, saying he relied on the advice and counsel of Gilbert and others at Balch. During the sentencing phase, U.S. District Court Judge Abdul Kallon said he was moved by Roberson’s history and the character witnesses who testified on his behalf, and the judge said he found Roberson to be less culpable than Gilbert because he relied on Gilbert’s legal advice.
Gilbert was sentenced to five years in federal prison. Robinson was sentenced to two and a half years.