By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Despite Baron Coleman’s assurances to Judge Jacob Walker III, that he would not release taped conversations between he and Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart, the judge issued a protective order barring him from disseminating them publicly, then hours later he issued an amended version which included Coleman’s statements to the court in a closed hearing.
Coleman told the court he secretly recorded conversations between he and Hart and that he “put two and two together,” and now claims the tapes may show prosecutorial misconduct in the felony case against Speaker Mike Hubbard.
At 5:18 pm Judge Walker issued his first protective order, by 6:59 pm, al.com reported “Coleman was mulling over his legal options including whether to hand the tapes over to Walker in light of the protective order.”
An hour and forty minutes later Judge Walker issues an amended order which include statements made by Coleman in a closed hearing:
THE COURT: Well, can you [Coleman] not release it [tapes] in the meantime?
MR. COLEMAN: I can make that assurance to you.
In the closed hearing before Judge Walker on March 3, Coleman assured the trial judge he would not release the tapes, however, he indicated to al.com’s Chuck Dean, that he might defy Judge Walker’s order.
Coleman, a Montgomery-based attorney, political consultant and radio host, has appeared before Judge Walker on at least two occasions. He acted as his own counsel at a hearing before Judge Walker on October 20, 2015. At that hearing, Coleman appeared before the court in an effort to quash a subpoena from Hubbard, seeking his testimony on prosecutorial misconduct.
Hubbard’s attorneys have long argued that Coleman received leaks from the Lee County Grand Jury that indicted Hubbard on 23 felony counts of public corruption. At the October 20 hearing, Coleman told Judge Walker, “Simply put, I know nothing about the Grand Jury.” He continued, “I didn’t testify in front of the Grand Jury. I didn’t — I have never spoken to a grand juror. I have never spoken to anyone who appeared in front the Grand Jury.”
Coleman, who along with his partner Jack Campbell, have hosted a talk show for almost two years. During many of those shows Coleman has offer heated criticism of Hubbard, as well as pointed analysis of the charges against Hubbard.
Coleman has also offered the same fiery rhetoric on the television news show, The Voice of Alabama Politics, hosted by this reporter.
Hubbard’s attorneys have used Coleman’s public words and actions to claim he had received information in violation of the Grand Jury Secrecy Act.
Coleman has repeatedly denied such allegations. As the State pointed out, in a February motion on a March 29, 2015 episode of The Voice of Alabama Politics, Coleman, referencing filings by Hubbard: “Now, my name was in some of the filings … as [a person] supposedly receiving leaks. No leaks over here.” His comments can be heard at 19:40-50 portion of the broadcast.
This aligns with Coleman’s statements to Judge Walker in October. However, in a February 2, 2016 affidavit Coleman provided to Hubbard, he seems to contradict his earlier statements.
During a February 16 hearing, Judge Walker said he wanted answers to why Coleman had come forward with this information at this time, and why his testimony had changed, so he scheduled a March 3 hearing.
Coleman took the stand on March 3, telling the Judge he had been “pressured” by his conscience to come forward and correct his October statements. This statement was contradicted by Coleman’s partner Campbell, as well as Coleman’s close associate former State Senator John Rice. Both men swore Coleman told them he had been pressured with a bar complaint, if he did not write the affidavit for Hubbard.
The Coleman affidavit, the tapes, and other distracting machinations have taken the spotlight off of the real question before the court, which is simply, did Hubbard break the law?
The State filed a motion on February 11, stating Judge Walker had been given documentation that Coleman was a confidential informant, and therefore the conversations between Hart and Coleman were privileged. The State also asked the court to issue a protective order sealing the tapes from public distribution. It also asked that Judge Walker issue a comprehensive protective order that would seal Coleman’s tape from the public because they are the product of his work as a confidential informant.
Coleman has denied the State’s claim.
Judge Walker told Coleman at the March 3 hearing, that he alone would determine if Coleman was a confidential informant.
In his amended order Judge Walker said he would take up the issue of a comprehensive Protective Order, at the March 17 hearing.
Judge Walker has ordered that briefs on Coleman’s allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, and his status as a confidential informant, be submitted to the court on March 17. The Judge will also discuss the March 28 trail date, in light of the Court of Criminal Appeals denial of Hubbard’s writ of mandamus, in a hearing scheduled for the same date.