By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—After the drama surrounding the exit of Speaker Mike Hubbard’s lead counsel J. Mark White and his law firm, trial Judge Jacob Walker III issued an order just after 5:00 p.m. Friday, confirming Hubbard’s trial will begin as scheduled on March 28, 2016. Walker also set a pre-trial conference for February 16. Late Friday Judge Walker issued a order giving Hubbard’s attorneys a January 15 deadline to file for a continuance.
During the hearing on White’s motion to withdraw, Judge Walker repeatedly questioned Hubbard’s new lead attorney, Lance Bell of Trussell, Funderburg, Rea & Bell, P.C., a Pell City law firm, if he and Blake Oliver of the firm of Adams, White, Oliver, Short & Forbus, would be ready for trial by the scheduled March 28 trial date. Bell nervously informed Judge Walker they would not be prepared in time, despite the fact that all the remaining lawyers have been Hubbard’s lawyers for over two years.
In a tense moment, Matt Hart, Division Chief of the Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Unit, said, “If they have their way, they will never be ready for trial.” Bell loudly responded, “You don’t run things Matt.” As one reporter remarked, Bell came across more like the character Roscoe P. Coltrane from the TV series Dukes of Hazzard than a top-tier criminal defense attorney.
Judge Walker seemed visibly perturbed with Hubbard’s latest attempt to delay his trial on 23 felony counts of public corruption.
Bell cited the over two dozen motions still pending in front of Judge Walker as another reason to delay the proceedings. One motion still before the court is the appointment of W. Van Davis as Acting Attorney General. Bell, the current chairman of the St. Clair County Republican Party, has reportedly reminded members of the party of his stellar performance defending Hubbard.
One St. Clair County GOP member recently told this reporter Bell had bragged about a meeting he and attorney Augusta Dowd with the firm of White, Arnold & Dowd had with Gov. Robert Bentley. According to the member, Bell claimed he and Dowd tried to convince Gov. Bentley to intervene in the case regarding the appointment of Van Davis. While Judge Walker has not specifically ruled on the appointment of Davis, he did find his appointment proper in the trial of Rep. Barry Moore.
Most court observers see White’s exit under the pretext of a conflict of interest as merely another tactic to delay Hubbard’s day in court.
Hubbard, who remains Speaker of the House, has repeatedly tried to have his trial date moved for the purpose of presiding over the Alabama House of Representatives for yet another legislative session.
This story was updated to included Judge Walker’s late Friday order.