By Chip Brownlee
The Alabama Political Reporter
AUBURN — Mike Hubbard is fighting to avoid his four-year sentence in an over-crowded Alabama prison. Hubbard and his attorneys have filed a notice of appeal of his felony ethics conviction, ushering in another trial for the former Alabama House speaker.
Bill Baxley, Hubbard’s lead defense attorney, submitted the appeal with Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals Wednesday afternoon.
“We’re very confident we’re going to prevail, and he’s going to be totally exonerated at the end of the day,” Baxley said.
Hubbard was removed from office for being found guilty of 12 felony ethics violations — violations of the same ethics laws he himself helped pushed through the Legislature.
In August, his attorneys filed post-trial motions in Lee County that alleged juror misconduct and sought a new trial or acquittal.
The post-trial motions were automatically denied in early September, APR reported, after Circuit Judge Jacob Walker refused to rule on them, but Hubbard’s attorneys aren’t stopping in Lee County.
The automatic denial and the quiet end to Hubbard’s Lee County trial started the clock on a deadline to appeal, which was set to run out this month.
Baxley said juror misconduct and prosecutorial misconduct by the attorney general’s special prosecutions division will be at the forefront of Hubbard’s arguments in appeal.
“I think juror misconduct was the heart of it,” Baxley said. “[But], that’s just part of it. There’s so much there, that’s only part of it.”
Baxley said there was no crime committed, and the attorney general’s prosecution team allowed former Ethics Commission Executive Director Jim Sumner to improperly influence the jury. He was supposed to be a witness. Instead, they treated him like an expert, he said.
“It should have never gone to the jury, in our opinion,” Baxley said. “A crime has got to be something that violates a statute that’s been made criminal conduct by the Legislature. What Mike was found guilty of was what they allowed Jim Sumner to testify was a crime — not what the law said.”
A Lee County jury found Hubbard illegally voted on the 2013 General Fund budget despite having a conflict of interest. The budget had language that would have essentially given the American Pharmacy Cooperative Inc. a monopoly on Medicaid pharmaceuticals.
The former speaker was on APCI’s payroll at the time — and other organizations’ payrolls too. At one point, he was receiving as much as $30,000 a month in reimbursements for “consulting” and “lobbying” efforts.
The jury also found he illegally accepted things of value — in the form of $150,000 investments into his failing Auburn-based printing company — from lobbyists and principles.
In the appeal, Hubbard’s defense will also try to convince the court the investments were legal by again resurfacing what they dubbed “the friendship exemption” — an argument they used throughout his first trial.
Baxley, Lance Bell and David McKnight, Hubbard’s other attorneys, attempted to convince the jury that Hubbard was friends with the men who made the investments, which is allowed under the ethics laws, they said.
Hubbard took nearly $400,000 in illegal investments from Jimmy Rane, owner of Great Southern Wood and the wealthiest man in Alabama, according to Forbes; Robert Burton, president of Hoar Construction; Will Brooke, board member of the Business Council of Alabama; and James Holbrook of Sterne Agee Inc.
They failed in Lee County to prove the investors were “friends.” But they’re ready to try again.
“Jimmy Rane said Hubbard has been his friend,” said Baxley. “Jimmy Rane knew Hubbard and was friends with him before Hubbard ever met his wife.
“Robert Burton, CEO of Hoar Construction, said the same thing. With both sides saying that, they still allowed Jim Sumner to tell the jury, ‘No, they’re not friends. Friends are so and so, and so and so.”
Deputy Attorneys General Matt Hart and Mike Duffy convinced the jury that Hubbard solicited the investments as the speaker of the house, using his position in state government for personal gain.
According to the prosecution, Rane was looking for the Legislature to provide more funding for Marion Military Institute, which was something close to Rane’s heart. Baxley said there is no proof of that.
“You’ve got to have some kind of evidence of that,” he said. “And there was none — not a shred. In fact, Rob Burton testified that he never asked anything from Hubbard. Jimmy Rane had nothing to do with him as speaker.”
But the prosecutors said Hubbard “put a for sale sign in front of the speaker’s office.”
“The defendant was on the brink of collapse,” Duffy said during his closing arguments. “He was about to be on the hook for $822,000 [if the printing company bankrupted]. That’s why he went out and found people who had interests before the Legislature to ask them for $150,000.”
Duffy said Hubbard violated the State’s trust and destroyed the public’s confidence in State government.
“The integrity of government — it matters,” Duffy said. “The defendant ran all over the [the ethics laws] with his conduct. He didn’t care about any of it.”
The defense has yet to submit any briefs in the appeals case, said Baxley. They’re waiting on the court to update the records. Hubbard will remain out on bond until the conclusion of his appeal.