Alabama House speaker convicted on ethics charges
Opelika, Ala. — A jury on Friday found Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard guilty on 12 counts of public corruption — agreeing with prosecutors’ assertions that the powerful Republican used the influence and prestige of his political offices to benefit his companies and clients.
The verdict automatically removes the powerful Republican from both the Legislature and the speaker’s office, ending the upward trajectory of the one-time GOP star whose career previously appeared to have no limits. Hubbard spoke briefly with his attorneys before being escorted from the courtroom by a sheriff’s deputy.
“We hope this verdict tonight restores some of the confidence in the people of the state of Alabama that public officials at all levels in the state of Alabama will be held accountable for their actions, especially those that would betray the public trust,” said W. Van Davis, the acting attorney general in the case.
The jury, which arrived at the verdict after nearly seven hours of deliberation, acquitted Hubbard on 11 other counts.
The conviction of the Republican politician comes amid a season of scandal in Alabama that has engulfed Republicans at the helm of the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore faces possible ouster from office over accusations that he violated canons of judicial ethics during the fight over same-sex marriage. And Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has faced calls for his impeachment after a sex-tinged scandal involving a former top aide.
Prosecutors accused Hubbard of using his political offices as speaker and as former chairman of the Alabama Republican Party to try to obtain $2.3 million in work and investments. The charges included that he directed GOP campaign work to his printing company; solicited investments and help to find employment from lobbyists and company executives; and used the power of his office to benefit his clients through legislative action or lobbying the governor’s office.
Hubbard since his indictment in 2014 had steadfastly maintained his innocence. His defense argued that the transactions were legal and within the bounds of the state ethics law and its exemptions for normal business dealings and friendships. His defense noted that the transactions involved people who were longtime friends.
The Republican speaker took the witness stand in his own defense.
“Never,” he replied when his defense lawyer asked if he had used his office for personal gain.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers in closing arguments gave jurors dueling portraits of Hubbard, a man who helped guide Republicans’ rise to prominence in Alabama.
“This man right here loved power. I think you could sense that through his testimony. It was all about power and it was all about greed,” Davis told jurors in closing arguments. “It was never enough for Mike Hubbard.”
Defense lawyer Bill Baxley, himself a former Democratic attorney general in Alabama, told jurors in closing arguments that the charges brought by the attorney general’s office against Hubbard were “flimsy” and “absurd.”
“What you heard from that witness stand is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Mike Hubbard did anything,” Baxley said. “He didn’t use his office in any shape, form or fashion to try to get hired.”
Hubbard, in a twist of political irony, was convicted under an ethics law he once championed.
He was the general of Republicans’ 2010 offensive to win control of the Alabama Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. After the victory, Hubbard was elected speaker and the new GOP-controlled legislature approved revisions to the state’s ethics law in a special session called by the governor.
Deputies took Hubbard to the Lee County jail Friday evening, a detention center not far from Mike Hubbard Boulevard, a road named after the local legislator.
Hubbard faces up to 20 years in prison for each ethics count.
Sentencing is set for July 8.