Bradley Attorneys Win Dismissal In Ground Breaking W.R. Grace Environmental Crime Prosecution of Client

Firm News

Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP secured a complete vindication of client Robert Walsh in a federal court case that has been termed one of the most significant environmental criminal prosecutions in history. Walsh and five other defendants, including their former employer W.R. Grace, had been charged with participating in a conspiracy to defraud the United States and to violate the Clean Air Act by knowingly releasing asbestos in the community of Libby, Montana. Walsh’s case was dismissed with prejudice after eight weeks of trial before the case was submitted to the jury.

Lead attorney Stephen Spivack said the Bradley Arant Boult Cummings trial team succeeded in demonstrating that the case against Walsh, who served as Executive Vice President and later President of W.R. Grace’s Construction Products Division between 1982 and 1989, was futile from the start. “The case against Mr. Walsh was so utterly without merit that after eight weeks of trial, the government itself conceded that it could not prove any criminal conduct and asked the court to dismiss the charges against him, which the judge promptly granted. We recognize the suffering that has been felt by the Libby community and we are pleased with the outcome for our client, but it is truly unfortunate that Bob Walsh and his family were forced to consume more than four years of their lives with these proceedings in a case that never should have been brought.”

The case, United States v. W.R. Grace,, has been described by environmental law authorities as one of the most significant criminal prosecutions the federal government has ever filed against an alleged corporate polluter. The town of Libby is located in northwestern Montana near the site of a vermiculite mine and mill that was operated by W.R. Grace from 1963 until its closure in 1990.

Throughout the proceedings, the Bradley Arant trial team repeatedly highlighted that the government’s proposed evidence lacked relevance to the crime charged and had enormous potential for jury confusion, unwarranted delay, and unfair prejudice. This fact was emphasized strongly in Walsh’s motion for an acquittal, as was the reality that the provision of the Clean Air Act that Walsh was accused of conspiring to violate did not become law until 1990, well after he had left his position of responsibility in the division that ran the vermiculite operations. Rather than contest the motion for an acquittal, the government elected to ask the court to dismiss its case with prejudice, which was granted by the presiding U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy.

The charges stemmed from a 2005 federal grand jury indictment, alleging a 30-year conspiracy to defraud the government and violate the criminal provisions of the Clean Air Act. Walsh was indicted along with Jack Wolter, Henry A. Eschenbach, Robert J. Bettacchi, and William J. McCaig on charges that they knowingly released a hazardous air pollutant, then conspired to conceal their involvement or obstruct the government’s investigations.

Spivack, a partner in Bradley Arant Boult Cummings’ Washington D.C. office and its white-collar defense and criminal investigations practice group, led a team of attorneys that included partners David Roth (Birmingham, Alabama) and Daniel Golden (Washington, D.C.), associate Kyle Hankey (Birmingham), and paralegal Lisa Claus (Washington, D.C.).