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Opinion | Steve Marshall … fighting for ethics and the law?

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall speaking during a congressional hearing in 2018.

Give Steve Marshall a round of applause.

No, I mean it. Fair is fair, give the man his due — he’s done his job as Attorney General of Alabama this week.

On Monday, Marshall’s office filed a response to former House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s Alabama Supreme Court appeal. And if you were concerned that the AG’s office might mail it in to aid both Hubbard and some of Marshall’s top donors — who were accused of bribing Hubbard — you were wrong.

The response, likely written by Clark Morris, the new head of special prosecutions at the AG’s office, did not cut Hubbard any slack, made sound legal arguments and — maybe more importantly, given the ALSC’s tendency to ignore the law and legal precedent — made good, common-sense arguments.  

This follows a bold comment from Marshall’s office last week in which the AG challenged top GOP lawmakers on their efforts to blow up the state’s ethics laws. Marshall could have kept quiet about it, tried to work it behind the scenes, but instead, he took a stand … for ethics.

Look, I know what you’re thinking, and yeah, I’m as surprised as you to be writing this. I have cut Marshall no slack since he began his quest to obtain the AG’s office, and demonstrating a willingness to do anything, cut any corner, bend any law, accept any sketchy relationship to achieve it.

But fair is fair. The guy did his job.

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Maybe just doing your job shouldn’t warrant an entire column of praise. Actually, there’s no maybe about it. It shouldn’t.

But in this state, with elected goobers scurrying into every nefarious corner imaginable and everyone doing their dead-level best to avoid doing anything to stop anyone from stealing from the poor to pad the pockets of the rich, sometimes you have to make exceptions.

This is one of those times.

Because to be more fair, Marshall did go a bit above and beyond. He was facing serious heat to support the ethics reforms. Sources close to the situation told APR last week that Marshall was told his office stood to lose all of its state funding if he didn’t support it.

That tactic has been tried before — back when the AG’s office, then led by Luther Strange, was prosecuting Hubbard. It was a threat Hubbard’s GOP lawmaker pals employed in a pathetic attempt to get Strange and then-prosecutor Matt Hart to back off.

It didn’t work then and it apparently isn’t working this time, either.

The statement issued by Marshall’s office wasn’t exactly fire and brimstone defiance, but it made it clear that the AG’s office was firmly against the proposed changes.

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Those changes would annihilate the ethics laws, reopening state government to a virtual free-for-all. Lobbyists could give unlimited gifts to lawmakers. There would be almost no one to investigate crooked politicians. And Alabama would become even more of a pay-to-play state.

Marshall made clear that those changes were no good, and they would hamper his office’s ability to prosecute several matters before it now. One of those being the appeal of Hubbard, which GOP honchos are trying desperately to get overturned.

And they’re using the same old tired arguments that we’ve heard a thousand times: Matt Hart was an overzealous prosecutor who abused the well-intentioned-but-unclear ethics laws that prevent a good man from making a living simply because he’s an elected official.

Of course, that is complete and utter nonsense. And Marshall’s office, in its response to Hubbard’s appeal, said so in some of the plainest English you’ll ever find in a filing from a state AG’s office.

“Hubbard asserts that he was just trying to ‘make a living as other citizens do,’ Marshall wrote in a press release announcing Monday’s filing. “But private citizens cannot earn a living through jobs that involve minimal work and training over scotch. They cannot collect hundreds of thousands of dollars for occasionally calling a legislator. They cannot email lobbyists and expect riches. In short, private citizens cannot use a ‘public office … for private gain.’”

The filing also uses Hubbard’s own words and the testimony of his friends and colleagues to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that the former speaker knew full well that he was crossing ethical boundaries and violating the public’s trust, but did so anyway because he was desperate to cash in on his power and position.

The filing from Marshall’s office is convincing and it is damning. And it’s surprising.

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Of all the people to save ethics laws and that smidge of decency that we have left in our state government, I never dreamed it would be Steve Marshall. But it’s nice to see the effort.


Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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