By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Last week, Judge Jacob Walker, III, finally said enough is enough, and with that, Speaker Mike Hubbard is fated to stand trial on 23 felony counts of public corruption in May. This will be some 577 days after being indicted. Jury selection will begin the week of May 16, with opening statements projected for May 24 or 25.
Despite Hubbard’s attorneys Bill Baxley and Lance Bell whining like a pair of 13-year-old girls begging daddy for tickets to a Justin Bieber concert, and David McKnight threatening to upend the trial opening, the Judge said, “No.”
Of course, the trial of Michael G. Hubbard is a serious matter, but it will also be entertaining in a perverted sense, as farce, facts, and politics all collide in spectacular fashion.
Given the slapstick antics of Baxley, and the buffoonery of Bell will be entertainment enough as they try to defend a fat, middle-aged Michael Corleone wannabe. Baxley, who is one part “Doc” from Back to the Future, one part Matlock is a formidable foe. Bell, who by nature is Goober Pyle with a mean streak, who’s mangled syntax will serve as a testimony to Alabama’s failed public school policies. Bell, the head of the St. Clair County Republican Party, constantly refers to Hubbard as “The Speaker,” as if he were the Sultan of Burundi, and Bell his first eunuch. Bell has spent his “down-time” at recent hearings chatting-up a TV reporter, who seemed to delight in his hillbilly charms. Perhaps flirting was not covered by Judge Walker’s gag order. Those reporters, who have noticed the canoodling have expressed their own gag response.
But make no mistake, Bell aside, Baxley, McKnight, and Joel Dillard are seasoned professionals, with a firm grip on what must be done.
At Friday’s hearing, McKnight, after pleading with Judge Walker to delay the case, said that if the continuance was not granted, he would answer “no” when asked at the first day of trial if the defense was ready. This prompted Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart to jump to his feet saying McKnight was threatening the court and that Judge Walker may as well give them the gavel, because that’s what they want.
Matt Hart is a mountain of a man, who does not suffer fools gladly and is a mixture of Black Ops Commando and Field General. Hart and his team seem well prepared for battle. Hart’s hard-edge style will be tempered by Deputy Attorney Generals John Gibbs and Michael Duffy.
While this is a celebrated trial, Hubbard will not enjoy high name ID with the jurors, as pointed out by Hart on Friday. When striking a jury in the Rep. Barry Moore case in Lee County, three times as many prospective jurors knew the name of former State Senator and real estate man John Rice than they did Hubbard.
The real luminaries will be former Gov. Bob Riley and current Gov. Robert Bentley. Riley is still favorably remembered by the general public (not so much in the Capitol City), whereas Bentley is ridiculed daily and his favorabilities are in the toilet.
Bentley recently said he had done nothing illegal or unethical. Currently, those matters are under investigation by State and Federal agencies. As to his ethical conduct: it is beyond belief that the former Baptist deacon actually thinks sexting, and fondling a staffer and married mother of three, is somehow permissible, under any ethical cannon.
During the pretrial hearing, the State asked the court to limit certain areas of evidence to be presented by the defense. The State asked that Baxley and company not be allowed to make claims of prosecutorial misconduct, or say the case against Hubbard was a political witch hunt.
The prosecution pointed out that the court had already ruled on prosecutorial misconduct in exhaustive pretrial hearings, and had prevented such arguments in the Rep. Barry Moore trial.
Judge Walker wondered aloud about the challenge, at times, siding with the defense, and alternately with the prosecution, leaving the matter somewhat vague. He did concede to limiting certain arguments in opening statements, saying the court would have a hearing on what claims Baxley would make in his opening statements.
Other matters of contention included Hubbard trying to present other lawmakers’ consulting contract as an “everybody does it” defense. The State is also seeking to stop Hubbard’s criminal lawyers from saying that Hubbard funneled millions into his companies using his position as Chairman of the Republican Party, because they were good deals, or that they did superior work. Baxley chaffed at every request saying the State was trying to destroy his defense.
Judge Walker appears like he wants to decide each issue as it comes before the court during the trial. Deputy Attorneys General Gibbs and Duffy repeatedly argued that some bells “can’t be unrung.” Judge Walker did not seem completely convinced, leaving many requests unanswered.
It now appears that after almost two years, Hubbard will stand trial. There is still speculation that Hubbard may take a plea, but that seems unlikely.
However, there are very powerful men who do not want to be subjected to a grilling by Baxley or Hart. The trial will surely unearth the slimy interworking of the State’s pay-to-play system under Hubbard’s regime. It will also lay bare further corruption yet unprosecuted.
The greatest burden will rest on Judge Walker, who will need to exercise the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon.
So, Hey everybody let’s have a trial!