By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
DeKalb County Circuit Court Judge Randall Cole issued an order yesterday that has conditionally quashed the subpoena against Attorney General Luther Strange ordering him to testify in the campaign finance violation trial of former Senate Pro Tem Lowell Barron.
Barron, who was an Alabama Senator for 28 years – until his narrow, 628 vote defeat in 2010 by Republican Shadrack McGill – who was also the Mayor of Fyffe for over a decade before his long stint in the legislature, which ended in his serving as Senate Pro Tem from 1999 until 2007 and his tenure as chair of the Senate Rules Committee until his electoral loss three years later. In late 2012, he was nearly fatally injured in a tractor accident. A few months later, in April 2013, Barron, as well as his former assistant Rhonda Johnson, were indicted by a DeKalb County grand jury on several campaign finance charges stemming from nearly $60,000 in ill-advised campaign expenditures from Barron to Johnson, as well as the gifting of a 2007 Toyota for “campaign” uses.
After he was released on bail, the former Senator held a press conference – still in a neck brace from his tractor debacle – to express his view that the arrest was part of nothing but a “witch hunt” pursued by “Luther Strange from Montgomery.” He went as far as to say that being killed in the accident would have been better than Attorney General Strange ruining his good name and reputation. Now, with his trial upcoming, Lowell Barron is having his legal team send subpoenas, and AG Strange was on the list. The defense has maintained that the prosecution is politically motivated, and that the AG’s testimony is relevant.
They also say that the prosecution of Barron is selective, pointing to similar action made using campaign funds by the Alabama AG.
The Circuit Court judge’s order prevents the subpoena as long as prosecutors do not protest any defense effort to introduce any relevant campaign finance reports filed by AG Strange. Notably, Barron’s attorney in the matter is Joe Espy, who has successfully defended several high profile clients in Alabama politics, including Milton McGregor in the Bingo corruption trials, as well as Senator Roger Bedford in extortion charges in 2002.
In a statement, former State Senator Barron has said of the Attorney General’s actions: ”No one is above the law. Luther Strange is seeking special treatment in this case. The fact is that at no time has Luther Strange spent one day or even one hour in DeKalb County on this matter. Instead, as we like to say up here, he is hiding out and running for the hills.” The Attorney General’s Office will not comment other than what they have filed in writing with the court. In these documents, AGO staff said that the subpoena is irrelevant to any credible defense, and that Strange would have nothing substantive to add to the situation. Alabama House Representative Joe Hubbard, who is the Democratic nominee for Attorney General this election cycle, responded to the news on social media, saying “You only avoid sworn testimony when you have something to hide. Here’s Luther, running from the courthouse. Again. #wheresluther”
After Barron’s attorneys filed documents on the allegations against Luther Strange regarding his campaign finances, Hubbard wrote the following:
Court filings include 195 pages of exhibits outlining $354,548 in payments from Luther to his staffer and her companies.
Now we know why he’s dodging a subpoena to testify. “Where’s Luther?” is Joe Hubbard’s question for the Attorney General, but it seems “hiding out and running for the hills” is the only answer he will get, not from AG Strange, but from Lowell Barron.
Barron’s trial is set to begin on April 14th, with DeKalb County Circuit Court Judge Randall Cole presiding.