Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Donald Watkins offers insight on how former Balch attorney Chase Tristian Espy, now facing a child-solicitation charge, wound up in Gov. Kay Ivey's office

Chase Tristian Espy

Of all the unsavory issues surrounding Birmingham's Balch & Bingham law firm, the most troublesome one might involve the child-solicitation charge against a former attorney. It's hard to massage or downplay a story about an accused child predator having been in your midst. And Balch seems to be sinking deeper into a state of disarray following the late-August 2021 arrest of its former attorney, Chase Tristian Espy, on a charge of seeking sex with a child, according to a post at banbalch.com.

Perhaps the No. 1 question hanging over the Espy case is this: How did Espy manage to leave Balch and gain a position on the staff of Gov. Kay Ivey, seemingly without the law firm warning the governor about a potential problem on the horizon? Former attorney, banker, and entrepreneur Donald Watkins might have shined light on that question in his Sunday analytical piece about Alabama Power, Matrix LLC (headed by Joe Perkins), and associated entities -- and the "trade secrets" they use to maintain control over the corporate, legal, and political environments in Alabama.

The Watkins piece originated at his online news site and serves as an introduction to a series of posts he plans about the Alabama Power/Matrix relationship and the extensive bag of "dirty tricks" they allegedly keep in their toolbox. We reported on Watkins' insights in a post yesterday titled "Donald Watkins reveals some of the "dirty secrets" Alabama Power, Matrix LLC, and Co. use to maintain a stranglehold on power in the Heart of Dixie. Writes Watkins, focusing on Gov. Ivey and her office:

After [Robert] Bentley exited the governor's office, Perkins and his team of political operatives provided Alabama Power Company with the information they needed to capture and control incoming governor Kay Ivey. They learned that Governor Ivey had serious issues with her alcoholic consumption. According to Alabama Power's intelligence gathering reports, Governor Ivey would often start drinking on the job by noon each day.

Did Balch & Bingham officials sweep Chase Tristian Espy out the door and send him Ivey's way, thinking they could get away with it, since they reportedly had intelligence about an apparent weakness under the governor's umbrella? Is that why Balch felt no need to warn Ivey about a possible problem employee headed her way? Watkins' analysis certainly suggests that scenario might have been in play.

Public records indicate Espy hardly was a mere hanger-on at Balch; in 2017, he helped handle a case styled Midland Funding LLC v. Johnson before the U.S. Supreme Court. A source tells Legal Schnauzer the incident leading to Espy's arrest occurred in March 2021. That apparently means he still worked at Balch when the alleged child solicitation took place, although the exact date of his exit from the firm remains unclear.

According to published reports, Espy worked for former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) before taking a job at Balch in 2012. He left to become a staff attorney in the office of Gov. Kay Ivey, but was promptly fired after the August arrest.

As for banbalch.com, which has covered the Balch & Bingham story with more consistency and detail than any other news site, Publisher K.B. Forbes has asked a number of times: How did Chase Tristian Espy wind up in Kay Ivey's lap, seemingly without warning? Writes Forbes, in an August 2021 piece, shortly after Espy's arrest, under the headline "Prestigious to Egregious: Balch in Disarray After “Seeking Sex with a Child” Arrest":

With the criminal arrest . . . of Chase T. Espy, a former long-time Balch attorney who allegedly was seeking to have sex with a child, Balch & Bingham appears to be in disarray, and former attorneys and ex-partners are allegedly scrambling to distance themselves from the embattled firm, sources tell us.

The once prestigious, silk-stocking law firm appears to have become the cesspool of egregious misconduct, and observers are in disbelief that clients like Southern Company and Alabama Power continue to utilize the law firm engulfed in scandal, impacting children to the elderly.

Balch, in sheer panic, stepped on a land mine . . . while trying to save face by telling the Montgomery Advertiser that they had terminated the alleged sexual deviant “nearly one year ago.”

If true, what did Balch know and did they report Espy’s misconduct to the state bar or local authorities?

After 8 years on the job, an attorney is simply not terminated like a novice.

And why in heaven’s name would Balch let Alabama Governor Kay Ivey hire Espy and put the Administration at risk if they knew Espy appeared to be trouble?

Someone seeking sex with a child online is usually an experienced predator.

That raises all kinds of questions, and Forbes is not shy about spelling them out:

Did Balch know of alleged acts or crimes “nearly one year ago?” Was there a cover-up?

Investigators need to probe the matter to make sure no children were victims of Espy’s alleged deviant and sick behavior.

Since 2017, Balch’s alleged unsavory and criminal misconduct has rocked the firm. And the list grows year to year.

  • A former executive of a Balch client, who was lied to and deceived by Balch, was convicted and sentenced to federal prison in 2018, and appears to have been set up as the “Fall Guy.” 
  • A former aerospace executive of a Balch client was indicted last year after allegedly ripping off the government and using unqualified personnel. Balch scrubbed their website in 2017 after links to the company were exposed.

The ugliness associated with Balch does not end there. Espy has waived his right to a preliminary hearing and is expected to face trial later this yer. Writes Forbes on other Balch issues:

And these alleged criminal acts add another black eye to the alleged historical and institutional racism associated with Balch.

  • Balch & Bingham appears to have grown to power in the 1960s due to its close and inside connection to segregationist and racist Alabama Governor George Wallace. 
  • Schuyler Allen Baker, Sr., a top Balch partner and staunch segregationist, was part of Wallace’s inner circle and the legal team that attempted to block the school door in federal court and keep African-American students out of the University of Alabama. 

And sadly, the alleged systemic racism continues in the 21st Century.

  • Of the more than 200 attorneys at Balch & Bingham, only seven attorneys are African-American or people of color. Engaging in alleged “tokenism,” each one of them is located in a completely different Balch office, except Birmingham which has two African-American attorneys. 
  • Only about 1 percent of Balch partners are non-white. 
  • In 2019, Balch let go of their only African-American female attorney in Birmingham who headed diversity efforts at the firm. This year, Balch hired a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, seen as a desperate act of window dressing. 
  • Balch was involved in the alleged abhorrent “whites-only” land grab in Vincent, Alabama, that impacted the descendants of slaves. Voters revolted last year and tossed the Balch stooges out of office. 

The rap sheet against Balch is growing longer by the day and chief executives like Tom Fanning of Southern Company need to rid themselves of this embarrassing baggage.

Loyalty and tradition have no place when children, the elderly or minorities are taken advantage of, and said egregious acts appear to be foolishly protected, obscured, or hidden away.

Even Balch’s most honorable partners and professionals would agree.


Anonymous said...

I would say Mr. Espy took a nice career and flushed it down the toilet.

legalschnauzer said...

It's a sad story on a number of levels. The saddest, of course, is that children allegedly were targeted for activities they should not be involved with, in any way, at any time.

Anonymous said...

Did Espy follow through on his efforts, or was he sort of trolling?

legalschnauzer said...

I don't believe that has been made known publicly at this point -- perhaps because Espy waived a preliminary hearing. Either way, it appears one or more criminal statutes were in play. Based on the charge being "child solicitation," I'm guessing the activities likely did not go beyond what you might call the "trolling" phase. Of course, trolling that involves children still presents a big problem for the defendant.

legalschnauzer said...

K.B. Forbest raises a key question with this:

Balch, in sheer panic, stepped on a land mine . . . while trying to save face by telling the Montgomery Advertiser that they had terminated the alleged sexual deviant “nearly one year ago.”

If true, what did Balch know and did they report Espy’s misconduct to the state bar or local authorities?

legalschnauzer said...

Did the Alabama State Bar and law enforcement know about Espy's alleged activities about a year before they became publicly known. If not, why not? If so, what (if anything) did they do about it.

That's a trail that definitely needs to be sniffed.

legalschnauzer said...

The gist of Watkins' article, of course, is that Alabama Power, Balch & Matrix have the ability to use "trade secrets" to help control powerful entities in the state, such as law enforcement and the Alabama State Bar. Was a cover-up of the Espy matter going on here?

Anonymous said...

I wonder how Espy got caught. Did a child say something that caused an adult to spring into action? Was a parent already alert to the possibility of something untoward going on with a child's computer?

legalschnauzer said...

Good questions, @2:25. I don't have answers, but I wonder if such inappropriate solicitations might prompt behavioral changes in a child, the kind of thing a parent might notice.