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Opinion | Alabama Supreme Court’s failure to act on Hubbard is jeopardizing other cases

Josh Moon

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The attorneys working for indicted Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely didn’t mince words Tuesday afternoon, following Blakely’s arraignment: They’re hoping the Alabama Supreme Court saves their client. 

Blakely loudly pleaded not guilty to the 12 felony ethics charges he faces, and his legal team undoubtedly will mount a defense to those specific charges. 

But before they get to the specifics, Blakely’s attorneys said they were hopeful that the Alabama Supreme Court will determine that the state’s ethics laws — at question in the appeal of former House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s conviction — are simply too vague. 

“Everyone knows that there’s a case pending before the Supreme Court right now that could determine our case,” said Huntsville attorney Robert Tuten. “(The Hubbard decision) could change a lot of rulings. Could certainly make a difference in active cases, like ours.”

For now, a Limestone County Circuit Court judge has denied Blakely’s motions to dismiss on the grounds that the state’s ethics laws are too vague. And for good reason. 

They’re not. 

A jury of 12 regular folks in Lee County were able to decipher the laws and determine that Mike Hubbard clearly and knowingly broke 12 of them. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals gave him a break on one of the counts, knocking the total down to 11, but that’s where things stand. 

More than three years after Hubbard’s conviction. 

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Cases like Blakely’s remind everyone that what’s happened in Hubbard’s appeal — the obviously political delays and phony hand-wringing — is shameful. 

It has left judges and prosecutors and attorneys all over the state questioning what’s legal and what’s not. And as Tuten noted, it truly has put a number of verdicts in jeopardy. 

All to protect a stone cold crook. 

Look, we can debate a bunch of things in this state, but the fact that Mike Hubbard was 100 percent guilty of using his office for personal gain just isn’t one of them. The guy took a lucrative “consulting” contract with a pharmaceutical company, then instructed the House budget chairman to insert language into the budget that gave that company an exclusive deal, and then he voted to approve that budget. 

If you look up “using your office for personal gain,” that’s the definition. 

Hell, in an email to this state’s former governor, Hubbard actually wrote this: “Those ethics laws …. What were we thinking?”

That was in the midst of devising plan after plan to subvert those laws and use his status as speaker to profit personally. In court, day after day, witness after witness testified that they had no idea that when Hubbard was setting up meetings for the benefit of his clients that he wasn’t doing so as speaker. Because he was doing so as speaker. 

The case against him just isn’t that hard to figure out. It is not some super complicated legal conundrum that will befuddle second-year law students for years to come. 

And anyone who tells you differently has an agenda and probably a political campaign to worry about. 

Like the justices on the Alabama Supreme Court. 

They know this case isn’t a hard one to figure out. That’s why they’re dragging their feet. If they could justify tossing it, they would have done so months ago. 

But they can’t. Because what Hubbard did was so clearly a misuse of his office, so clearly a man using his public position for personal enrichment that even the most conservative of conservatives would be outraged by letting him get away with it. 

So, they’re stalling. 

It has been more than 1,200 days since Hubbard was convicted. More than five years — FIVE FREAKIN’ YEARS! — since he was indicted. 

The Appeals court issued a lengthy decision on the case, and took months to do so. The ALSC has, remarkably, entertained oral arguments and more briefs — all of it simply repeating all of the same things that have been repeated numerous times since this ordeal started. 

In the meantime, this stalled case is raising issues for courts to continue to deal with. And depending on what the ALSC decides to do — because you never know, and you can’t exactly count on the law and precedent to guide it — it could jeopardize dozens of convictions and current cases. It is most certainly detering prosecutors and investigators from pursuing tough cases. 

All to protect a criminal. 

The fact is Alabama citizens like the ethics laws we have. And we’re fairly unconcerned with their vagueness. They were meant to deter elected officials from enriching themselves and treating everyone fairly. That’s what they’re doing. 

And every single day, honest politicians in this state go to work, do their jobs and then return home without ever once coming close to violating an ethics law. 

It can be done. Mike Hubbard chose not to. 

And now, in the interest of protecting him, the state’s highest court is putting judges and prosecutors in tough positions, and potentially allowing other crooks to get away with their crimes.

 

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Opinion | Dodge the Economic Impact Payment card fees

Joey Kennedy

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My wife received her $1,200 stimulus payment as a direct deposit several weeks ago. I did not get one, even though we file a joint income tax return, she makes more money than I, and our money is deposited into the same bank account.

I just figured there was some kind of mix-up. That’s fine; mostly I’m patient when I’m getting “free” money. I’m not teaching this summer, so the money will come in handy when it comes.

Then this week, a lawyer friend and his wife received their stimulus money on a prepaid debit card. Luckily, my lawyer friend is a lawyer. He always reads the fine print.

More than likely, I would have thrown the fine print part of the stimulus in the trash, and maybe the debit card, too, because the whole thing looks like some sort of scam. And my friend says that in some ways, it is.

About 4 million of the debit cards were sent out by “Money Network Cardholder Services,” with a return address in Omaha, Neb. They are issued by MetaBank, N.A. There is no indication on the envelope that this is indeed the stimulus money approved by Congress. There is a flier inside that says “Enclosed is your Economic Impact Payment Card.” According to reports, the debit cards have been tossed into the garbage by people who think they are some elaborate scam or a solicitation for one of those high-interest credit cards.

They are valid, and your money is loaded onto them for you to spend like any Visa card. Except there are some catches, and this is what my friend is miffed about. He believes unsophisticated folks (that could be me) and marginalized people who receive the cards will succumb to the various fees that an unaware card user can incur.

Most services have no cost. Buy what you want, call for a balance inquiry, transfer the funds to your personal bank account, and use in-network ATMs that carry the AllPoint brand and you won’t be charged.

However, there are fees for using out-of-network, domestic ATMs ($2 after the first withdrawal), $3 for ATM withdrawals in another country, even getting a balance from your ATM, either in-network, out-of-network, domestic and international (25 cents a pop).

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If your card is lost or stolen, you’ll pay for that as well. It’ll cost $7.50 for a new card, and if you want it expedited, that’ll be $17. If I lose my bank’s debit card, or if the card is stolen (both of which have happened to me), my bank replaces the card for free in about five days. If you lose your “economic impact payment card,” it could cost you $24.50 to have it replaced in a timely manner.

And here’s where you can really run up charges: If you use a bank teller for a cash withdrawal on the card, there’s no charge for the first withdrawal, but $5 for subsequent withdrawals using a teller.

If only a small percentage of users end up paying fees because they used the wrong ATM or prefer to get their cash from a human teller, that could add up to millions of dollars for somebody up the line, and that somebody is not going to be you or me.

I’m not complaining. I’m just urging caution if you’re one of the millions of people who received one of these debit cards. Be aware they are coming and don’t fall into the fee-trap that comes with them.

I’m no financial wiz – my family and friends can attest to that – but if I get one of those debit cards, I’m just going to transfer the whole amount into our checking account. If you don’t have a bank account, and many people don’t, I would just cash it out then cut up the card.

But be aware these cards are going out, and if you’re waiting on your stimulus check, you might get a debit card instead. Don’t throw it away. Buy something. It’s what they want you to do.


Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Marsh hurls accusations at Gov. Ivey. Is he barking mad?

Bill Britt

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Appearing on the latest edition of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Sen. President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, blamed Gov. Kay Ivey for the loss of some 450,000 jobs in Alabama.

It’s an absurd accusation that any thinking Alabamian knows is a lie. But Marsh wants to hurt Ivey because she exposed him as little more than a petty, greedy-gut politico.

Still stinging from the public humiliation he suffered after Ivey revealed his “wish list” — which included taking $200 million in COVID-19 relief money to build a new State House — Marsh is leveling a cascade of recriminations against the popular governor.

However, what is astonishing is that he would spew brazen lies about Ivey during raging loss and uncertainty caused by a worldwide pandemic. This latest fiction about Ivey creating widespread economic calamity is the unseemly work of a hollow man without empathy, wisdom or decency.

This insane assertion that Ivey is somehow responsible for thousands suffering is as cravenly evil as it is politically stupid.

“The policies that have been put in place by the [Ivey] administration have 450,000 people out of work,” Marsh told show host Don Daily.

Only a fool, a nutjob or a politician would blame Ivey for losing some 450,000 jobs, but there was Marsh, on public television, showing he is perhaps all three.

In the middle of his barking-mad comments, Marsh somehow forgot to mention that he was a member of Ivey’s Executive Committee on the COVID-19 task force and helped make the very policies he now claims led to joblessness and financial ruin for many Alabamians.

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Marsh is merely making it up as he goes because his fragile ego, pompous character and rank inhumanity suddenly became fully displayed for every Alabamian to see when he doubled down on building a new State House.

And so, like a guy caught with his pants down, Marsh is pointing his finger at Ivey to distract from his naked indifference toward the struggles of his fellow Alabamians.

Marsh’s plan to spend the CARES Act funds on a State House and other pet projects ignored the sufferings of hundreds of thousands of the state’s most vulnerable citizens and businesses.

Ivey wanted the nearly $1.9 billion in CARES funds to go to help those individuals, businesses and institutions affected by COVID-19. Marsh wanted it as a Senate piggybank, so, he lashes out at her rather than reflect on how he and the State Senate could do better in the future.

Anyone who blames others for their failings is a weakling, not a leader.

Marsh came to power under a scheme hatched around 2008, by then-Gov. Bob Riley. The plan was to make Mike Hubbard the speaker of the House, Marsh as pro tem and Bradley Byrne as governor. Riley would act as the shadow puppet master pulling the strings of power from behind a thin curtain of secrecy, allowing him to make untold riches without public accountability.

Byrne losing the governor’s race to the hapless State Rep. Dr. Doctor Robert Bentley was the first glitch in the plan (yes, during the 2010 campaign for governor, Bentley changed his name to Doctor Robert Julian Bentley so the title Doctor would appear next to his name on the primary ballot).

The second problem for the venture was Hubbard’s avarice, which landed him on the wrong side of the ethics laws he, Riley, Byrne and Marsh championed. Of course, the ethics laws were never meant to apply to them. They were designed to trap Democrats.

Marsh has floundered since Hubbard’s grand departure and with Riley sinking further into the background, it is now apparent that Riley was the brains, Hubbard the muscle and Marsh the errand boy, picking up bags of cash to finance the operation.

Gofers rarely rise to power without the public noticing they’re not quite up for the job, and so it is with Marsh that his office has shown the limits of his abilities.

Marsh wanted to control the COVID-19 relief money to spend on pork projects as he’d done in the past, but Ivey didn’t allow it. To be outsmarted is one thing, but to be beaten by a woman is too much for a guy like Marsh.

Ivey burned Marsh like a girl scout roasting marshmallows over a campfire.

Senator Marshmallow, anyone?

Poor Marsh, with his political career in turmoil, picked the wrong target in Ivey.

Some look at Ivey and see a kind, grandmotherly figure. Ivey is as tough as a junkyard dog, and now Marsh knows what her bite feels like.

Ivey didn’t cause massive job losses. COVID-19 did that. But Marsh got his feelings hurt, bless his heart, so he wants to take Ivey down.

Just like his scheme to commandeer the COVID-19 funds from the people didn’t work, his attack on Ivey won’t either.

People see Marsh for what he is, and it’s neither strong nor competent; it’s weak and ineffectual.

Marsh stood behind Ivey when she announced the state’s health orders wearing an American flag style mask.

He voted for her executive amendment.

And now he lies.

In times of real crisis, true leaders emerge while others of lesser abilities whine. Marsh is complaining. Ivey is leading.

And so the public watches as The Masked Marshmallow takes on Iron-jawed Ivey. It’s not tricky to see how this cage match turns out.

Marshmallow, down in three.

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Opinion | It should be clear by now: Kaepernick was right

Josh Moon

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A lot of people owe Colin Kaepernick an apology. 

If nothing else, surely the last few weeks of horrible, horrible racial incidents have left even the most adamant Kap haters reconsidering their positions.

Maybe, just maybe, they’re thinking the man has a point: That justice in this country isn’t color blind.

And that the promises of justice and equality, represented by the United States flag and anthem, often fall well short for black men in this country. 

Then again, if you didn’t understand before now, there’s a good chance that watching ANOTHER black man be choked to death in broad daylight on an American street by a police officer — as three other police officers defended him — then you’re probably not inclined to understand now. 

George Floyd, the man we’ve all now witnessed dying on a Minneapolis street, as he begged a cop to let him breathe, did not deserve to die. Hell, he didn’t even deserve to be handcuffed and tossed down on the street, much less to have a cop put his knee on his throat until he died. 

A store thought Floyd was forging a check. A person at the store called the cops. And a few minutes later Floyd was dead. 

This, in a nutshell, is why Kaepernick began his protest several years ago. Why he sacrificed his NFL career. Why he has endured the death threats and vitriol. 

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Because these sorts of awful acts are far too common for black men in America. The prevalence of the cell phone camera has made that abundantly clear over the last several years. 

It’s hard to imagine how many of these incidents were swept under the rug in years past. Especially after the actions of other cops, district attorneys and judges to protect the dirtiest of cops have also been exposed. 

That sad fact was highlighted in the Ahmaud Arbery shooting in Georgia in February. Even with video evidence, it took a new DA and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation becoming involved before the two men who hunted Arbery down were arrested. 

All because one of the men was a retired investigator who worked for the DA’s office. 

Because why mess up the life of a white man simply for shooting one black man who might have done something at some time? 

But the deck stacking won’t stop with the arrest. 

If the murder of Greg Gunn in Montgomery back in 2016 taught us anything, it’s that the entire system is rigged to ensure the bad cops never face full justice for their crimes. 

After Gunn, who was walking home after a poker game in his neighborhood, was murdered steps from his own front porch by a white cop who thought he looked suspicious, the cop was — to the shock of almost everyone — arrested within a week and before a grand jury could rule. 

Other cops — even ones who privately admitted to me that the cop, Aaron Smith, was in the wrong — pitched one hell of a hissy fit when the arrest warrant was issued. They threatened a walk-out. They showed up to sit in the courtroom during one of Smith’s early hearings. The mayor of the city vowed to keep Smith on the payroll. 

And then the real shenanigans started. 

Judges started to bail on the case — eight in all. The Alabama Supreme Court issued an unprecedented ruling that removed a black judge from the case. The appointed judge moved the trial from 70-percent-black Montgomery to 70-percent-white Dale County. 

After all of that, and even with Smith admitting to investigators that he never had probable cause to stop, chase or shoot Gunn, the best prosecutors could do was a manslaughter conviction. 

And in one final slap to the faces of Gunn’s family, Smith was released on bond while he appeals his conviction. He’s out today, having served only a few weeks to this point for a murder committed more than four years ago. 

This is the system that black Americans must traverse in this country. One that leaves black parents rightfully concerned that the men and women all of us white people call for protection might just be the executioners of their children. 

The rights guaranteed to us in the Constitution are not based on skin color. But too often, the protection of those rights by cops, DAs and judges is. 

That’s not right. And all of us should be willing to say so. 

And maybe admit that Kaepernick had a point.

 

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Opinion | Mike Hubbard conviction finally upheld

Steve Flowers

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Over the past four years during my travels and speaking events over the state, the most asked question posed to me has been, “Why in the world is Mike Hubbard not in jail?”

It was four years ago in June 2016 that the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, Mike Hubbard, was convicted by a jury of his peers in Lee County of a dozen counts of violating the State Ethics Laws.

The most inquiring and astonished groups have been Republican laden clubs like Rotarians.  They have been very indignant, vocally, about the imbalance of the criminal justice system towards white collar political criminals, as opposed to those who are general thieves and assailants.

These comments were generally laced with indignation and skepticism that Hubbard would never serve a day in jail.

Well it looks like his day of reckoning may be coming near.  He will eventually serve four years in an Alabama jail.  Folks, that is not quite the ride that serving four years in a federal “country club” prison would be.

In April, the Alabama Supreme Court finally gave a clarified verdict on the 2016 Hubbard conviction. The Alabama Supreme Court upheld six of the 12 verdicts handed down in Lee County.  It reversed five others and remanded the case back to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, which had previously reversed one of the convictions.

Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote in the majority opinion, “We must interpret and apply the law.  And, every person accused of breaking the law – even one who had a hand in creating that law – is entitled to the same rules of legal interpretation.  When charged with a crime, public officials must be treated no better and no worse than other citizens in this State where all are guaranteed equal justice under the law.” Hubbard may find further routes of delay; however, he will go to jail.

This ends an era of corruption inherent during the Bob Riley era as governor.  Hubbard and Riley were well known to be best friends.  There were numerous taped conversations between Riley and Hubbard used by prosecutors during the trial.  During that reign, it appeared that it was open season on lobbyists in pay to play scenarios.  Part of the team was the BCA backroom power player, Bill Canary.  

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This Hubbard/Riley/Canary triumvirate is forever gone from Goat Hill.  There is still a lingering perception that Bob Riley is still calling shots from the sidelines of today’s political campaigns and world.  Folks, that is a misnomer.  As a lobbyist,Riley is able to get some campaign money for certain candidates from his friends and benefactors, the Indian gambling interests.  However, his influence in state politics is insignificant.  He is not the power behind the throne that is sometimes perceived.  There were whispers that he had influence and even control over the State Supreme Court.  This Hubbard decision dispels that myth.

As unsavory as Bill Canary had become, the breath of fresh air brought to the Business Council of Alabama by Katie Britt is significant to say the least, if not monumental. Katie Britt, the young, vibrant CEO of the Business Council exudes not only energy but vast integrity and openness.  She is twice as smart as most people on the block and ten times more honest and upfront with folks. She projects an image that makes business folks in Alabama proud to be a part of government in our state.

Katie revealed brilliant leadership, recently, when she initiated and orchestrated a BCA telethon on Alabama Public Television.  They had volunteer lawyers, accountants and other experts on the phone answering questions about how to apply for federal programs in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.  The Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General appeared as guests on the show with Katie.  Also appearing was the legendary leader of the National Federation of Small Businesses in the state, Rosemary Elebash, who has been a brilliant, hard-working leader for Alabama’s small business owners for decades.

See you next week.


Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at
www.steveflowers.us.

 

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