By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—It a stunning move, Speaker Mike Hubbard’s chief counsel, J. Mark White and his firm have filed a motion to withdraw from the case. With only about three months until the trial is to begin, White’s withdrawal would leave a host of unanswered questions.
Who remains to represent Hubbard?
Who will lead his legal defense?
How will this affect the trial date?
Can Hubbard afford another attorney?
A defense attorney speaking on background said, “A lawyer leaving a case this high profile a couple of months before trial is odd. As a lawyer, there’s really only two reasons you would withdraw at this late stage, and you’d need both reasons to justify it in your mind. One, you think you’re going to lose. And, two, you’re not going to make any more money. If you’re not going to make any money off of a losing case, withdrawing may be the best route.”
For months, rumors have circulated in the legal community that Hubbard was hundreds of thousand of dollars in arrears on his legal fees. The cost of his representation so far has been estimated at around $1.7 million and counting. Money for Hubbard’s defense has primarily come from campaign donations and perhaps a legal defense fund. Hubbard used almost $400,000 in campaign contributions to pay White and his other lawyers.
White has made many missteps in Hubbard’s defense, the most obvious resulted in embarrassing emails being disclosed that showed the underbelly of Hubbard’s scheme to use his office for personal gain. In an email to former Gov. Bob Riley, Hubbard said of the ethics laws he championed, “What were we thinking?”
White also penned hopes of having the case dismissed on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, and selective and vindictive prosecution. That strategy has shown little to no fruit.
White relied almost exclusively on the testimony of disgraced Deputy AG, Henry T “Sonny” Reagan, and discredited Special Agent, Howard “Gene” Sisson. Both men where removed from their posts at the Attorney General’s Office after it was discovered they tried to undermine the Hubbard investigation.
White’s defense strategy was so poor, that Sisson was never allowed to take the stand (there were no grounds for his hearsay testimony).
Reagan was devastated on cross examination, leading to more embarrassing moments for Hubbard.
For nearly a year, White has employed a tactic of deny, deflect and delay. Now, with his departure, many questions go unanswered.
Even before Hubbard’s indictment, White played the media, convincing many reporters that Hubbard’s investigation wasn’t real. White focused on what he referred to as, those who were trying to ruin Hubbard’s good name. But, even as the media was being mesmerized by White’s imaginary witch hunt, prosecutors were in contact with him discussing various aspects of the investigation.
On the day Hubbard was indicted, White arranged for an Associated Press reporter, and al.com reporters to be on hand to file stories favorable to Hubbard. While White has played the media like a cheap fiddle, the prosecution and the trial Judge, Jacob Walker III, have not been amused.
Recently, White struck out again in court, when Judge Walker denied most of the witnesses in the prosecutorial misconduct hearing. At that same hearing, Judge Walker signaled the trial would go forward on March 28, something White had wished to avoid, one more time.
White’s withdrawal, would need to be approve by Judge Walker. Many questions for now remain unanswered.