OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard took the witness stand in his own defense at his ethics trial Tuesday, saying he took precautions to obey state law with contracts his companies received and made "not a cent" from campaign work steered to his printing company.
For two weeks in the public corruption trial, some of the most direct prosecution evidence came from Hubbard himself as prosecutors showed jurors emails he sent lamenting his financial situation and appearing to repeatedly ask former Gov. Bob Riley, now a lobbyist, and others for assistance in help finding work. Hubbard, 54, on Tuesday attempted an explanation, saying he sought advice from longtime friends when he was laid off, including Riley, a man he considered a father figure.
"It was stressful," Hubbard said. "I poured out my soul in the emails. You never think the government is going to get your emails and put them out there on the internet. I learned my lesson."
Hubbard said he "called a lot of folks I thought could give me good advice" after being laid off from a $130,000 job with a sports media company.
Prosecutors are presenting the emails as evidence that Hubbard improperly sought jobs and financial favors from lobbyists such as Riley and other company officials who had business before the Alabama Legislature.
Hubbard faces 23 felony ethics charges accusing him of using the power and prestige of his political offices, as speaker and GOP chairman, to benefit his and his clients' companies by obtaining $2.3 million in work and investments. Hubbard has insisted that the transactions were within the bounds of state ethics law exemptions for normal business dealings and longstanding friendships.
Hubbard also said it was a "group decision" by top Republicans in the state to send legislative campaign business to a printing company he co-owned. He said he did not make money off the deal and that it would allow the party to save money and have more control over the delivery of the direct-mail pieces.
Putting Hubbard on the witness stand could be a risky proposition, since prosecutors who depicted Hubbard as a conniving opportunist will get to question him again later. But Hubbard took his chances with the jury.
Speaking in his characteristic rapid pace, Hubbard gave the jury anecdotes about how he pestered a radio station and eventually got a job as a disc jockey at the age of 13; worked on Heisman Trophy campaigns for Bo Jackson and others, and eventually found his way into state politics after meeting Riley, a man he said he liked instantly. He attempted a self-deprecating joke that Jackson's athletic ability had a small part of the trophy win.
Staying on message, Hubbard repeated the same defenses and explanations he had offered to the news media in the past.
The speaker said he sought the informal advice of the then-director of the Alabama Ethics Commission before taking contracts, including an industrial recruiting job with a municipal-owned gas utility.
"It had been approved by the ethics commission and that was my job," Hubbard said. He added that he thought it was a good thing that the company paid for his attendance with the state delegation at the 2013 Paris Air Show because taxpayers didn't have to pay to send him there.
Hubbard was on the witness stand for about 90 minutes before court broke for the day. His testimony resumes Wednesday.
Part of the charges against Hubbard are that he violated a provision of the ethics law forbidding legislators from getting paid to lobby the governor and executive branch offices, and from using their positions to help their own private businesses.
Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday morning after a state investigator broke down for jurors the $2.3 million that Hubbard's businesses received.
The columns of numbers and excerpts from Hubbard's personal income tax returns were projected on a screen for jurors in a quiet conclusion to more than two weeks of sometimes combative testimony from members of Hubbard's inner circle and a roster of the state's business and political elite.
Greg Fee, an investigator with the Alabama attorney general's office, testified that Hubbard's companies received $600,000 in investments, $1 million in political party work, and about $700,000 from Hubbard's consulting contracts. Hubbard's household income from wages hovered between $312,000 and $352,000, according to federal tax returns from 2009 to 2012. His yearly income stayed relatively steady as consulting work replaced other wages when Hubbard was laid off from his primary job at a sports network.
Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker rejected a defense request to dismiss the charges.