Wednesday, December 1, 2021

From a possible federal investigation to signs of a severe revenue decline, Balch & Bingham appears to be stumbling as a longtime partner waves "so long"

The recent exit of a legacy partner at Balch & Bingham raises all kinds of questions about the Birmingham law firm's future -- and its present -- according to a report at Writes Publisher K.B. Forbes, under the headline "Turkey Carcass! Is Balch Choking on Eggnog?":

The stunning news of legacy partner Rob Fowler’s unannounced departure from embattled law firm Balch & Bingham has set the legal community ablaze.

What could cause a long-time veteran of environmental law to depart abruptly?

Sources claim Fowler has left allegedly to become inside counsel at Bluestone, the controversial coal operator in Jefferson County that was shut down recently.

If true, that would be an enormous step down.

 what about other possible reasons for Fowler's exit? The horizon is littered with them:

        Other sources say possible ongoing federal investigations, Alabama Power’s upcoming troubles with the Miller Steam Plant, and an alleged severe drop in revenue may be hammering the once-prestigious, silk-stocking law firm.

        Last week, sources at Balch tell us our post about the need for sensible leadership at the firm is provoking more internal reflection and some career despair among Balch partners and  attorneys.

        Balch’s failure to clean up the ugly ghosts and misdeeds from the past has left a law firm that looks like the carcass of an after-Thanksgiving turkey.


Anonymous said...

Balch & Bingham sounds like the legal equivalent of the Titanic. The question is "How long will it take for them to sink to the bottom?"

Anonymous said...

What kind of federal investigations might be going on with Balch?

legalschnauzer said...

This is a guess on my part, but No. 1 on my list would be the "Pimps of Mississippi" story where Covid-related rent-relief funds apparently did not get to those who needed them. The feds might be saying, "What happened to our money?" No. 2 would be fallout from the North Birmingham scandal. I'm not sure that ever has been put to bed, and if the Biden EPA and DOJ are on the ball, I could see that being re-examined.

Anonymous said...

This guy Fowler left Balch to take a job with a coal company that has been shut down? That sounds strange.

legalschnauzer said...

It does seem strange. Here are details about that "pause in operations, from a report at WIAT . . .

Bluestone Coal pauses operations in Birmingham amidst court battle over air regulation violations:

Bluestone Coal announced it is temporarily idling operations at the Bluestone Coke plant to renovate its facility. The company admits the upgrades are needed to maintain safety. According to a news release, the company plans to continue operations in April 2022.

“I don’t know what I’m breathing, all that contamination over there,” said Birmingham neighbor Eric Herrod. His home is directly across from the Bluestone plant. “It should have been shutdown,” he told CBS 42.

This comes after the Jefferson County Department of Health filed court documents in August attempting to deny Bluestone Coke an operating permit, citing several violations at the plant.

According to court documents, a hearing officer granted Bluestone’s motion to stay, allowing the company to continue operating.

The City of Birmingham joined the legal battle earlier this month. Mayor Randall Woodfin said they would work to keep the company held accountable.

Up until now, Bluestone had remained quiet on the issue, not answering CBS 42’s repeated requests for an interview.

You can read the full statement they wrote on Sunday below: (cont.)

legalschnauzer said...

More from WIAT re: Bluestone:

“Bluestone Coke announces today it is temporarily idling coke operations at its Birmingham facility in order to accelerate renovations and increase safety.

Much of the current workforce will remain on the job to perform the renovation and maintenance duties. Bluestone regrets that some employees and its customers will be inconvenienced in the short term but is confident the facility will be back to full capacity soon.

Bluestone bought the ERP Coke facility in North Birmingham in July 2019. At the time of acquisition, the facility was financially strapped and in immediate danger of closure. Bluestone stepped in to rescue this facility that had been deteriorating for an extended period of time due to the financial condition of the facility — not only under ERP but also under its predecessor Walter Energy who filed bankruptcy in 2015.

During the last two-plus years, Bluestone has invested tens of millions of dollars into the facility in making repairs to make the facility more compliant. Although much has been achieved, there is still work to be done to ensure safety and sustainable production. Due to the nature of the work that is remaining, Bluestone has determined it is best for the facility’s long-term viability to idle the plant today so that the rebuild and refurbishment work can begin on the three coke batteries and the associated facilities.

Bluestone looks forward to the refurbished facility. Its newly repaired ovens can be the premier foundry and furnace merchant coke producer in the United States for decades to come. This significant investment will pave the way for the facility to be a compliant, significant Alabama employer for the future.

Barring any unforeseen permitting or supply chain delays, Bluestone anticipates the initial phase at the facility to resume coke production on April 15, 2022. With these repairs once all completed, Bluestone will be able to produce both foundry and furnace coke in a dependable and compliant manner from all of its existing 120 coke ovens. Bluestone targets an employment growth due to these efforts, and should result in the employment of 250 Alabamians.”