By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY— Huntsville-based radio host, Dale Jackson recently released a tape of an “off the record” conversation between he and Matt Hart, who serves as a prosecutor in the case against Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard. Jackson, as well as Hubbard’s attorneys and allies, would have the public believe that there is something nefarious or even illegal about the conversation.
Jackson said, he published the tape because Hubbard’s attorneys had subpoenaed the recording after they “somehow” found out about it existence.
Since the publication of the tape, it has also been reported that radio hosts, Matt Murphy and Leland Whaley have also received subpoenas from Hubbard’s attorneys.
These three men have friendly relationships with Hubbard and former Gov. Bob Riley. Jackson and Murphy also work under the corporate umbrella of Cumulus Media, who, in Alabama, have rights to broadcast Auburn sports, with which Hubbard is affiliated. According to Whaley’s web post, “Mike Hubbard is a friend of 19 years and former business partner.” He also lists that he served as a “key campaign manager for Bob Riley’s successful 2002 race for Governor.”
There is wide speculation that the subpoenas and the recordings are a part of an overall media strategy coming from the Hubbard camp.
His attorney, J. Mark White has a reputation for using the media as a canvas on which to paint his clients defense. As far back as October 2013, White began using the media to portray Hubbard as an innocent man who had been libeled by “others” with malicious intent. Then, White said his client is a victim, and in a three-page press release, in the guise of a report, he is turned to those whom he refers to as “the legitimate press” to set the record straight.
Just days before his indictment, Hubbard hired a public relations firm to ramp-up the PR blitz, holding pep rallies, calling his indictments a political witch hunt and more.
Jackson has been one of the more vocal proponents of the political prosecution theory proffered by Hubbard and White. He has stated publicly that he believes the case is political motivated.
On the tape, Hart appears to counter that argument in much the same way that Acting Attorney General in the Hubbard case W. Van Davis did in a press statement, addressing what he called, “several false allegations,” made by Hubbard and his attorneys.
A closer inspection of the tape reveals no new information about the case against Hubbard. However, it does reveal a very clear picture of a politically conservative prosecutor trying to encourage honest reporting.
The tape, at just over 52 minutes long, sounds more like a Master’s class in pubic corruption and how the system should work, yet, somehow, Jackson thinks it is further proof, “that there are folks in the AG’s office who are conducting political operations,” as he posted on his website.
The conversation between Jackson and Hart occurred on a Sunday, and according to Jackson, on October 26, 2014, with Jackson presumably returning a call from Hart.
Hart begins by saying he wants to set some ground rules for the conversation:
“Now before we talk, I want to understand our ground rules, if you will, because I’ve got certain limitations on what I can say to journalists or commentators or whoever somebody is. And some of them, you know, might not want to accept that and that’s fair enough. I understand that. But can we speak off the record, not for attribution, et cetera? Can we do that?”
To this request Jackson say, “Sure, sure.”
Hart follows his off-the-record request stating, “ I would never deny anything I said, you know, in front of like a court or something like that. And I’m not going to break a rule and disclose something I shouldn’t disclose.”
With these caveats in place, Jackson promises to keep his word, yet later found a justification to break it.
According to Associated Press rules, “off-the-record” information “cannot be used for publication.”
Jackson used the Hubbard subpoena as justification for breaking the rules. He said, “It is going to be public record anyway. I figure, I might as well share it with you before anyone else puts their spin on it and shares the raw audio…”
His assertion that the tape would go into the “public record” is wrong and misleading, according to several attorneys who spoke on background.
On November 18, Davis released a statement to correct “several false allegations” made by Hubbard and his attorneys, most notably J. Mark White.
On that same day, White filed a motion with the Lee County Court demanding that Hubbard be allowed to “Inspect and to copy any written or recorded conversations between any members of the media and any members of the Attorney General’s office.”
After Hubbard’s request for “recorded conversations between any members of the media and any members of the Attorney General’s office,” Jackson posted on the web that he knew of someone who had been contacted by the AG’s office.
Almost a month to the day on December 19, Jackson posted his taped conversation with Hart, asserting that it was an act of “Intimidation and an attempt to influence an election.”
On December 19, Jackson also wrote, “Somehow Mike Hubbard’s attorney found out about the conversation and asked for a tape, if I had one, I believe others were called as well. I don’t know if there are more tapes out there.”
Whaley, who is a radio host and station manager at Crawford Broadcast’s Super Station 101 WYDE, received an “off-the-record” call from Hart and a subpoena from Hubbard’s attorneys. However, he chose a different route than Jackson saying,
“I will not release or broadcast my recording based on my agreement with the prosecutor. To do so would violate ethical standards I have not breached in the 32 years of my broadcast and political career.”
He received a call from Hart on October 21, two days after Jackson’s. Whaley, states that he and Hart taped the conversation and that he would only release the recording to the court if the, “defense team and the prosecution team decide if the recording has any evidentiary value.”
Davis answered Hubbard’s request for recorded conversations between any members of the media and any members of the Attorney General’s office, by showing that the records are not “discoverable,” under Rule 16.1 of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure.
It will be up to trail Judge Jacob Walker III to decide if the tapes have any relevance.
As for radio host Murphy, it appears, he did not speak with Hart but did receive a subpena from White.
Only the three radio “talkers” have acknowledged receiving subpoenas at this point, it appears that no one else in the media has received a subpoena or revealed any conversations with Hart.
As an aside, in the tape recording made by Jackson, he seems overly concerned with this reporters coverage of Hubbard and how I obtain my information. Hard work, integrity and honest reporting that’s how it’s done.
This story was edited on Jan. 7, to state that Matt Murphy was not in contact with Matt Hart and that Leland Whaley works for Crawford Broadcasting.
Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Buck’s pocket
You voted Tuesday on a crowded ballot.
Historically, in Alabama we have voted more heavily in our Governor’s race year than in a presidential year. That is probably because we were more interested in the local sheriff and probate judge’s races, which run in a gubernatorial year, than who is president. The old adage, “all politics is local,” definitely applies here in Alabama.
We not only have a governor’s race this year, we have all secondary statewide offices with a good many of them open including Lt. Governor, Attorney General, State Treasurer, Auditor, and two seats on the Public Service Commission. We have five seats on the State Supreme Court, one being Chief Justice. All 140 seats in the Legislature are up for a four-year term. These 35 state Senate seats and 105 House contests are where most of the special interest PAC money will go. And, yes, we have 67 sheriffs and 68 probate judges as well as a lot of circuit judgeships on the ballot.
You may think the campaigning is over. However, some of the above races have resulted in a runoff which will be held on July 17. So get ready, we have six more weeks of campaigning before all the horses are settled on for the sprint in November.
We have a lot of folks headed to Buck’s Pocket. Last year after the open Senate seat contest, a young TV reporter for one of the stations I do commentary for asked me about Roy Moore and his loss. I told her ole Moore had gotten on his horse, Sassy, and ridden off into the sunset to Buck’s Pocket, which by the way wasn’t a long ride from his home in Gallant in Etowah County. She looked at me with a puzzled look. Probably a lot of you are also wondering what I’m talking about when I refer to Buck’s Pocket.
For decades, losing political candidates in Alabama have been exiled to Buck’s Pocket. It is uncertain when or how the colloquialism began, but political insiders have used this terminology for at least 60 years. Alabama author, Winston Groom, wrote a colorful allegorical novel about Alabama politics and he referred to a defeated gubernatorial candidate having to go to Buck’s Pocket. Most observers credit Big Jim Folsom with creating the term. He would refer to the pilgrimage and ultimate arrival of his opponents to the political purgatory reserved for losing gubernatorial candidates.
This brings me to another contention surrounding Buck’s Pocket. Many argue that Buck’s Pocket is reserved for losing candidates in the governor’s race. Others say Buck’s Pocket is the proverbial graveyard for all losing candidates in Alabama.
One thing that all insiders agree on is that once you are sent to Buck’s pocket you eat poke salad for every meal. Groom also suggested that you were relegated to this mythical rural resting place forever. However, history has proven that a good many defeated Alabama politicians have risen from the grave and left Buck’s Pocket to live another day. Roy Moore may be a good example. He has risen from the grave before. He is only 70, and he may grow weary of eating poke sallet.
Most folks don’t know that there really is a Buck’s Pocket. Big Jim would campaign extensively in rural North Alabama often one on one on county roads. One day while stumping in the remote Sand Mountain area of DeKalb County he wound up in an area referred to as Buck’s Pocket. It was a beautiful and pristine area, but it was sure enough back in the woods. Big Jim who loved the country and loved country folks was said to say that, “I love the country but I sure wouldn’t want to be sent to Buck’s Pocket to live.”
Buck’s pocket is now not a mythical place. If you are traveling up the interstate past Gadsden, on the way to Chattanooga, you will see it. There is a Buck’s Pocket State Park in DeKalb County, thanks to Big Jim.
So the next time you hear an old timer refer to a defeated candidate as going to Buck’s Pocket, you will know what they are talking about.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.
Hubbard’s Lee County Trial Finally Ends in Silence
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—The post-trial appeal of convicted felon and former Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard, finally expired on September 8, in silence, according to the Attorney General’s office calculations.
For almost four years, Hubbard, aided by his criminal lawyers, used the State House, the Governor’s Office and some within the Attorney General’s office to deny, deflect and delay justice. Hubbard stormed the State House presiding over an orgy of greed and corruption. Those days are over for Hubbard and so is any appeal before the circuit court of Lee County.
Under Rule 24.4 of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure, Hubbard’s motion for a new trial, dismissal and/or an investigation by the Lee County Sheriff were denied by operation of law because Judge Jacob Walker, III, did nothing.
Under the Rules of Criminal Procedure, “no motion for a new trial or motion… shall remain pending in the trial court for more than sixty days after the pronouncement of sentence.” Hubbard’s sentencing July 8, on 12 felony counts of public corruption, means as of September 8, the calendar has run out for him, with Judge Walker deciding not to rule at all.
Under Rule 24.4: Denial by operation of law. “A failure by the trial court to rule on such a motion within the sixty (60) days allowed by this section shall constitute a denial of the motion as of the sixtieth day.”
At his post-trial hearing, Hubbard’s attorneys made their last stand in Lee County, with Bill Baxley arguing that his client was blindsided, bushwhacked and bamboozled, to no avail.
The Lee County case of the State of Alabama versus Michael G. Hubbard is over. He has a right to appeal his conviction to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals within 42 days, which expires on October 20.
Hubbard’s past efforts show he will seek every avenue available to delay his incarceration.
Every previous motion that Hubbard has set before the Court of Criminal Appeals, was denied without opinion. Many believe this same fate awaits Hubbard’s next appeal before the high court.
Hubbard’s days of freedom are rapidly coming to an end. His appeal was silently denied and most didn’t even notice. He is rapidly becoming yesterday’s news.
Hubbard’s Post-Trial Snoozer
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
OPELIKA—While searching for any thread of an argument that might lead to a new trial for convicted felon Mike Hubbard—once the most powerful politico in the state—attorney Bill Baxley whined, fretted and accused state prosecutors of blindsiding, bushwhacking and bamboozling his client.
Having written about Hubbard’s misdeeds since late 2012, the courtroom drama ending with his conviction makes Baxley’s latest attempt at the September 2 hearing feel like Hubbard trial 2.0 ad nauseam. Only Baxley’s fantastical leaps of legal logic and strained linguistic gymnastics kept the proceedings remotely interesting. Baxley argued several points, only winning on one issue with Judge Walker’s ruling that Hubbard would not be required to pay $1.125 million in restitution, as the prosecution asked.
Before the hearing began, Hubbard’s criminal defense team filed a motion to unseal all court documents related to the case, except one document. Baxley indicated that Judge Jacob Walker knew “the one” he referred too. After some legal wrangling by the prosecution and with Judge Walker, the defense was directed to construct a list of documents to be unsealed. Judge Walker’s decision was followed by Baxley huffing and puffing. Finally, he made reference to testimony given by Professor Bennett L. Gershman a “so-called” expert in prosecutorial misconduct. Hubbard filed to have Gershman’s testimony unsealed in 2015, to no avail.
Testimony given by former State Ethics Directors James “Jim” Sumner is central to Hubbard’s motion to dismiss or grant a new trial, neither of which is likely to occur. But, Baxley and company need to earn the additional $50,000 plus Hubbard recently raised from “friends.” Baxley argued it was improper for the State to present “expert” testimony about what various portions of the ethics statute mean, and whether certain phrases or clauses within those statutes would or would not encompass certain situations or events. The court seemed unmoved by Baxley’s logic since Judge Walker certified Sumner as an expert.
During the two-hour hearing, Baxley’s delaying tactics appeared to try Judge Walker’s patience, especially when the defense claimed they were unprepared to hear testimony concerning jury misconduct. Judge Walker said he set aside other cases to hear Hubbard’s claims of jury misconduct, a surprising claim that surfaced quickly after Hubbard’s conviction.
Hubbard’s criminal defense team citing an affidavit from a panel member filed a motion just days after Hubbard’s conviction calling for an investigation into jury misconduct by an impartial third party. In searching for a neutral investigator, Baxley determined Hubbard’s friend Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones was the best choice.
From the bench, Judge Walker informed Baxley that there is no legal basis for an outside investigation, and that testimony would be taken before his court to settle the matter. Baxley claimed the defense was once again unprepared for such at the hearing, and the juror who reported the alleged misconduct was unavailable.
Judge Walker questioned the two bailiffs and the court administrators who oversaw Hubbard’s trial. Bailiff Bobby Bond testified that he was instructed by court administrator Patricia Campbell, to caution a juror who reportedly was talking under her breath at the beginning of Hubbard’s trial. Bond said he issued the warning, but the juror denied the allegations and no further complaints were noted. Both Bailiffs who rotated sitting next to the jury box during the proceedings testified they never heard chatter from any jurors.
Under oath, Campbell confirmed she had received the complaint and reported it to Judge Walker, who ordered her to address the situation through the bailiffs. Baxley asked Campbell what was said. She remembered the accusing juror of claiming a fellow juror said, “Yes, now the truth comes out.”
Defense co-council Lance Bell rose to claim that Hubbard had not received a fair trial an assertion soon rebutted by the prosecution.
He, along with Baxley said the jury was not impartial, and Hubbard should receive, at least, a new trial. Arguing for the prosecution, Assistant Attorney General Katie Langer cited case law and explained the split verdict showed they were, in fact, impartial because otherwise, the trial would have ended with a hung jury.
As Judge Walker pointed out several times, the clock is ticking with very few days remaining before the 60 day deadline brings all proceeding before his court to a close. The trial judge may rule on these motion or simply wait out the clock.
Photo Credit: Albert Cesare/Montgomery Advertiser/Pool
Attorney General Reacts to Hubbard Loyalist’s Plans for Ethics Reform
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Alabama House Ethics Committee Chairman, Mike Ball (R-Madison), announced his plans (yesterday) to form a commission to review the state’s ethics laws. Ball, a staunch defender of convicted felon and former House Speaker, Mike Hubbard, told WHNT-TV in Huntsville that his committee would “review the State’s Ethics laws and recommend improvements in time for the opening of the Alabama Legislature next year.”
However, just hours after APR published its story on Ball’s plan, Attorney General Luther Strange, sent his comments. “I am strongly opposed to Rep. Mike Ball’s idea of a commission to review Alabama’s ethics law. The whole point of such a commission would be to undermine the law,” said Strange. “Alabamians want our ethics laws enforced, not gutted.”
Ball also said he wanted an “open and honest” process, stating, “Our best chance for success is for it to be carefully looked at, out in the open.” Ball claims he is determined to stop three ethics bills from coming to the House because he didn’t want them “lost in the mix, however, there is a reason to believe other forces are at work, especially given Speaker McCutcheon’s promise of principled leadership.”
It would be difficult to fathom a Hubbard loyalist overseeing a commission to amend laws that landed his former boss in prison.
The day after Hubbard’s indictment, Ball stood by his side at a pep rally proclaiming his boss’s innocence while sporting an “I Like Mike” sticker on his lapel.
Ball regularly appeared on talk radio accusing State prosecutors of conducting a political witch hunt to ensnare Hubbard.
In April 2015, Ball testified in a pre-trial hearing that Hubbard’s arrest was politically motivated. Under oath, Ball said the ethics laws needed amending to avoid prosecutions like Hubbard’s in the future.
Presiding Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker, III allowed Ball to testify, even though he said Ball’s testimony was not relevant to Hubbard’s indictments. Judge Walker ruled that accusations against Special Division’s Chief Matt Hart were not only irrelevant, but unfounded.
Ball is one of the remaining Hubbard loyalists at the State House.