By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
OPELIKA—At the Tuesday hearing on the Hubbard felony case trial, Judge Jacob Walker III, peppered the proceedings with questions he wanted answered by Baron Coleman at a March 3, evidentiary hearing.
Judge Walker said he wants to know why, during his testimony on October 20, 2015, attorney and radio host Coleman said, “Simply put, I know nothing about the Grand Jury.” But in his recent affidavit stated, he had between 50 and 100 conversations with Matt Hart, Chief of the Special Prosecutions Unit concerning, “The Mike Hubbard investigation, and the Lee County Special Grand Jury.”
Judge Walker said he wanted an answer to why Coleman had come forward with this information at this time. He also said he would hear testimony on the so-called “whisper campaign,” Coleman alleged was used against Hubbard in the 2014 Republican primary.
Judge Walker asked Bell who had been contacted about the “whisper campaign,” to which Bell offered no answer.
During the sometimes contentious hour-long hearing, Hubbard’s criminal attorney Lance Bell, said that Coleman had contacted him on Sunday, January 3, 2016. Bell said he was shocked to hear from one of Hubbard’s fiercest critics and feared in might be a trap. Bell said he became confident of Coleman’s desire to cooperate with Hubbard’s defense, after he provided what Bell considered damaging information about Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart. This prompted a meeting between Coleman and Bell at the Subway, off Interstate 65 in Clanton.
Bell said at the meeting, Coleman played him snippets of conversation between him and Hart, which some he claimed predated Hubbard’s indictment in October 2014.
During the hearing, Bell revealed he was the one who contacted law enforcement on Coleman’s behalf, arranging a meeting with ALEA. In his affidavit, Coleman stated he was contacted by ALEA, leaving out the fact that Bell facilitated the interview. Also, Coleman says he contacted the Alabama Bar Association, but Bell says he arranged that meeting as well.
When Judge Walker asked if Bell had prepared Coleman’s affidavit, he said, “no” but later admitted he had provided the original draft. Bell said Coleman made some changes before the filing. Several individuals familiar with Coleman’s writing-style originally questioned his authorship, some even found it remarkably similar to that of disgraced former Deputy Attorney General Henry “Sonny” Reagan, whose discredited writings are believed to have been guided by Rob Riley, one of Hubbard’s attorneys and son of former Gov. Bob Riley.
Judge Walker said he would like to hear testimony from anyone with knowledge of Coleman’s actions. For now, Coleman’s business partner Jack Campbell, former State Senator John Rice, and Sandy Toomer are expected to give testimony refuting Coleman’s affidavit. Also, representatives of law enforcement, including ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier, SBI, Special Agent Jack Wilson, and ALEA Chief of Staff John Taylor will offer further evidence contradicting Coleman’s sworn statements.
The State held forth in court, as in recent filings, that Coleman was a confidential informant and therefore all communications between the State and Coleman were privileged. Bell said Coleman played him a tape in which Hart tells Coleman he is a source, not an informant. Bell then accused Hart once again of breaking the law.
During the hearing, Judge Walker indicated that he had no plans of moving Hubbard’s March 28 trial date.
Hubbard added three new attorneys: former Attorney General Bill Baxley, Joel Dillard, David McKnight all from Baxley, Dillard, McKnight, James & McElroy law firm.
The defense has asked for a continuance allowing the new lawyers a chance to catch up to speed. During a brief exchange between Judge Walker and Baxley, the Judge said, “General, I hear you have a photographic memory?” To which Baxley replied, “Age has taken a toll on that.”
That exchange was the only moment of levity during the tense proceedings.