Jury convicts Alabama House speaker on 12 ethics charges

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Posted: Jun 11, 2016 1:48 AM
Jury convicts Alabama House speaker on 12 ethics charges

OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) — 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 office to benefit his companies and clients.

The verdict automatically removes Hubbard, 54, from both the Legislature and the speaker's office, ending the upward trajectory of the one-time GOP star. He 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 comes amid a season of scandal that has engulfed Republicans at the helm of the Alabama's legislative, judicial and executive branches of government. Chief Justice Roy Moore faces possible ouster from office over accusations that he violated judicial ethics during the fight over same-sex marriage. And Gov. Robert Bentley has faced calls for his impeachment after a sex-tinged scandal involving a former top aide.

One of Hubbard's defense attorneys said they plan on appealing.

"We're very disappointed with the verdict. We plan on appealing. I feel like I let my client down. We feel confident we will prevail in the outcome," defense lawyer David McKnight said as lawyers waited for Hubbard to be released on bond from the county jail.

The jury convicted Hubbard on charges that he used his office to solicit consulting contracts from several companies and then taking action to benefit them. The panel also convicted Hubbard, closely associated with the business wing of the state GOP, on charges that he asked four corporate executives to make $150,000 investments in his debt-ridden printing companies.

Jurors acquitted him of using his former position as party chairman to steer business to his companies. They also acquitted Hubbard on a charge that he solicited former Gov. Bob Riley — a man Hubbard described as a father figure — for employment.

Since his indictment in 2014, Hubbard 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, such as his one with Riley.

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 a tougher 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. The campaign focused on ending corruption in Montgomery after a series of indictments and investigations involving Democrats. 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.

After the verdict, deputies took Hubbard to the Lee County jail Friday evening, a detention center not far from Mike Hubbard Boulevard, a road named for him. He was released on $160,000 bond and driven away by a bail bondsmen as he held his face in his hand.

Hubbard faces up to 20 years in prison for each ethics count.

Sentencing is set for July 8.

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This story has been corrected to show that the sentencing date is July 8, not July 28.