A. H. Robins Co. yesterday announced the early retirement of its chief counsel and the dismissal of the law firm in charge of its voluntary bankruptcy.
The surprise announcement came nine days after the U.S. attorney in Richmond asked U.S. District Judge Robert R. Merhige Jr. to hold Robins in contempt for "willful and knowing" violation of a court order and to appoint a trustee to run the company.
Chief counsel William A. Forrest Jr. was quoted in a statement released by the company as saying his decision to leave the company was "purely a personal one and reflects absolutely no disagreement with management on any matter." Forrest joined Robins in 1966 and became a vice president in 1974, the year Robins halted U.S. sales of the Dalkon Shield, the intrauterine contraceptive device that has precipitated some 15,000 product-safety lawsuits.
The company cited those lawsuits when it filed on Aug. 21 for protection under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code.
Chief Executive Officer and President E. Claiborne Robins Jr. said Forrest, 55, told him last June that he planned to retire but would stay on until a successor is chosen. Robert P. Wolf, assistant general counsel, was named to succeed Forrest.
The bankruptcy counsel dismissed by Robins was Murphy, Weir & Butler of San Francisco. The Robins statement said only that "management believes this action is in the best interest of the company in moving the Chapter 11 proceedings forward."
The firm, which did not return a reporter's phone calls, is seeking $755,008 in fees and expenses from the bankruptcy estate, based on attorneys' hourly rates ranging from $110 to $250. The bill is the largest in the total of more than $2 million sought by law firms, accounting firms and others for the 18-week period that ended Dec. 31.
San Francisco plaintiffs' lawyer Dennis B. Conklin charged at a Feb. 14 court hearing that Robins went into Chapter 11 solely to spare Forrest and others from going to jail and other unnamed company officers from going to jail for "obstruction of justice, perjury and subornation of perjury." The Chapter 11 filing froze the civil legal actions in which those charges were raised.
Merhige said he was "at a loss to understand" why Conklin didn't take his allegations to federal prosecutors, saying that "anyone who violated the laws ought to be prosecuted."
In January 1985, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Miami held that a principal Robins defense witness had committed perjury "with complicity of counsel."
Roger L. Tuttle, the former in-house lawyer who defended the initial wave of suits, charged in testimony in 1984 that Forrest had ordered him to arrange destruction of sensitive shield documents. Forrest denied the accusation.