By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
The sentencing hearing for Mike Hubbard will be held this Friday at 10:00 AM, in the court of Judge Jacob Walker, III. If Hubbard is treated differently than any other criminal, or if he is shown the slightest bit of deference because of his position, the peoples’ trust in law and State government will continue to be shattered.
When Hubbard was under investigation, a vast majority were convinced he would never be indicted because they believed a Republican controlled Attorney General’s Office would never indict one of their own. Once indicted, Hubbard, as well as the majority of politicos and citizens, thought he would never stand trial because the courts couldn’t be trusted to bring such a powerful politician to heel. Finally, most didn’t trust the jury system, thinking that they would be swayed by Hubbard’s political standing in the community, or that his allies just might buy-off a juror or two. Hubbard was indicted, he did stand trial, and a jury of his peers found him guilty of 12 felony public corruption charges.
But, one question still remains: will Judge Walker continue to treat Hubbard as he would any other criminal?
The State has recommended Hubbard be sentenced on each of his 12 felony Ethics Law convictions to an 18-year base sentence, split to serve 5 years in prison, followed by a term of supervised probation equal to the time remaining. If Judge Walker accepts the State’s recommendation, Hubbard will serve 5 years without the possibility of parole with another 13 years of supervised probation. Some believe this sentence would be too harsh, while others think it too lenient.
The State also asked the Court to require Hubbard to pay $1,125,000.00 in restitution (Hubbard’s ill-gotten gains); the maximum fine of $360,000.00 ($30,000.00 per count); the maximum amount to the Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund $120,000.00 ($10,000.00 per count); and court costs and fees as determined by this Court.
Hubbard has betrayed the public’s trust by flagrantly and repeatedly violating State Ethics Laws, in order to make money and obtain financial favors from those with business before the legislature.
In 2010, Judge Walker sentenced Roy Johnson, former chancellor of Alabama’s two-year college system, to 60 months in prison for violating State Ethics Laws in a fashion similar to Hubbard’s. Johnson was also convicted on federal charges and sentenced to six and a half years in a federal prison. He was allowed to serve his State and Federal sentences concurrently. Johnson was sentenced to 60 months (or five years in prison) by Judge Walker even though he pled guilty to his crimes and asked forgiveness from the court.
In sharp contrast, Hubbard continues to refuse to accept responsibility for his criminal conduct, even telling close associates that his prosecution was a “witch hunt,” where he was targeted by a rogue prosecutor.
It should be asked, “If Judge Walker found that Johnson deserved 5 years for his State crimes, how can he not sentence Hubbard to an equal or greater sentence for his?”
Hubbard’s breach of the public’s trust is at the heart of the State’s recommendation for a tough sentence. In its recommendation, the State wrote, “His betrayal of his constituents, his fellow House members, and the citizens of Alabama warrants a strong, meaningful sentence in order to punish him, deter other public officials from violating the Ethics Laws, and help restore the people’s trust in their government.”
In 1958, the American National Election Study survey asked, “How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in … to do what is right…just about always, most of the time or only some of the time?” This was a first of its kind poll and 73 percent of those surveyed said they could trust the government just about always or most of the time. Only 16 percent said they could only trust the government to do right some of the time.
From Watergate to the present, trust in politicians and government, in general, has declined, despite efforts to bring the corrupt actors to justice.
Hubbard has signaled that he will seek an appeal bond, which will allow him to avoid prison, pending appeal. He was permitted to remain free on bond for almost two years after he was indicted. He used the presumption of innocence argument to remain Speaker, during which time, he sought to pass legislation to cripple the prosecution, memorialize the use of campaign contributions for his criminal trial and other nefarious acts too numerous to catalog.
Hubbard is no longer presumed innocent, he is guilty of 12 felonies. As the State has said, “This Court should hold Hubbard accountable immediately for his deliberate and calculated actions. Therefore, this Court should exercise its discretion to deny Hubbard an appeal bond and require him to immediately begin serving his sentence.”
Should Hubbard be granted an appeal bond, most will see this as special privilege for the powerful. If he is given a light sentence, many will conclude there is a separate justice for the wealthy and the well-connected.
No, Hubbard didn’t rob a bank or kill anyone, but in many ways, he did something far worse: his actions betrayed the citizens of Alabama.
Public corruption rips the fabric of our social contract, it diminishes our lawful institutions and strikes fear in the heart of the people, whom the government is sworn to serve.
Judge Walker must make Hubbard an example, or risk further undermining the peoples trust for sake of the powerful political elites.