11 of 12 Felony Charges Upheld Against Former Alabama House Speaker

by | August 28, 2018

By Mike Cason

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals today affirmed former House Speaker Mike Hubbard's convictions on 11 of 12 felony ethics charges and reversed the conviction on one.

Hubbard was convicted in 2016 on the 12 counts and sentenced to four years in prison. He has been free on bond pending his appeal.

The court reversed a conviction that Hubbard voted on a bill with a conflict of interest in 2013, the General Fund budget, which contained a provision that stood to benefit a business client of Hubbard's. That provision was later removed from the budget.

The court upheld Hubbard's convictions for receiving money from a principal, which is a business that employs a lobbyist; using his office for personal gain; lobbying state agencies for a business client; using state personnel to help a business client and soliciting business investments from principals.

Hubbard has denied any wrongdoing. His attorneys will continue to pursue appeals.

"We are grateful that one count was reversed, but extremely disappointed that others were not," attorney Joel Dillard said in an email. "This is the first step in the appellate process and we will continue to pursue an ultimate reversal of all counts on which Mike Hubbard was convicted. We believe we will ultimately prevail."

Hubbard can appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Mike Lewis, a spokesman for the Attorney General's office, which prosecuted Hubbard, said the ruling is under review and the AG's office had no comment at this time.

There were no dissenting votes on the five-member Court of Criminal Appeals.

Judge Samuel Henry Welch wrote the court's main opinion, which was 154 pages long. Judges Liles C. Burke, J. Elizabeth Kellum and J. Michael Joiner concurred, with Joiner writing a separate opinion.

Presiding Judge Mary Becker Windom recused herself.

Hubbard's appeal had been pending with the appeals court for more than a year.

A special grand jury in Lee County indicted Hubbard on 23 counts in October 2014. Hubbard took the stand in his own defense during his trial in May and June 2016. The jury convicted Hubbard on 12 counts and acquitted him on 11.

The conviction removed Hubbard from office.

Before that, Hubbard had been one of the state's most powerful politicians. He is also a former chairman of the state Republican Party.

Hubbard led the Republicans in a successful effort in 2010 to win majorities in the Legislature and end 136 years of Democratic control of the State House.

Hubbard had sought dismissal of the criminal case on claims of misconduct by prosecutor Matt Hart, arguing that Hart was biased against Hubbard and that Hart swayed the grand jury's decision to indict with threatening and intimidating tactics. Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker, who presided over the case, held a hearing and ruled against Hubbard's claim of prosecutorial misconduct. In its ruling today, the appeals court found no fault with Walker's decision on that issue.

The appeals court also upheld Walker's decision to deny Hubbard a new trial based on an allegation of juror misconduct. The misconduct claim was based on an affidavit from a juror who heard comments from other jurors indicating a bias against Hubbard. The appeals court noted that Hubbard's lawyers did not call any jurors to testify at a hearing Walker held on the misconduct claim.

Hubbard's lawyers also argued that the trial court improperly allowed testimony from former Alabama Ethics Commission Executive Director James Sumner, including testimony on the intent of the ethics law. The appeals court rejected that argument, too.

When prosecutors outlined their case against Hubbard, they contended that the speaker illegally used his political office to supplement his income after he lost a private sector job that paid $132,000 a year. Several companies hired Hubbard as a consultant through his company, the Auburn Network.

Prosecutors contended that the payments violated the ethics law because two of the companies that hired Hubbard were principals, companies that employed lobbyists. The ethics law prohibits public officials from accepting money or anything of value from a lobbyist or principal.

Five of the convictions related to investments Hubbard sought for Craftmaster Printers, an Auburn-area company in which he owned a 25 percent interest.

Hubbard solicited and received investments of $150,000 each from four business executives into Craftmaster. The jury convicted Hubbard on the charges that the four investors were principals. The fifth Craftmaster-related charge was that Hubbard received a financial turnaround plan and business advice from a principal, Business Council of Alabama Board Member Will Brooke.

Four of the counts concerned Hubbard's contract with a company affiliated with a business owner in his district, Robert Abrams.

That company, Capitol Cups, paid Hubbard's company $10,000 a month, a total of $220,000 from 2012 to 2014, to help market its products.

Testimony showed that Hubbard used his public office to further his interests with Capitol Cups, the appeals court ruling says. That resulted in a conviction of using his office for personal gain.

Hubbard was convicted on two counts of lobbying on behalf of another company for Abrams while he was being paid by Capitol Cups. Hubbard arranged meetings with Gov. Robert Bentley and Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield with Abrams to help the company with training.

Hubbard was also convicted of using state resources and a state employee, his chief of staff, to try to help Abrams get a patent issued. Hubbard did so without telling his chief of staff, Josh Blades, that he was being paid by Capitol Cups.

The appeals court opinion describes Hubbard's grounds for appealing each of the 12 convictions but finds those arguments lacking except on the charge of voting for legislation with a conflict of interest.

(c)2018 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham