Several reports last week made it seem Baxley's statements had put the matter to bed. The headline on one read: "Breaking: Hubbard's Attorney Confirms Plea Deal Report is False." Another claimed Baxley had "totally shut down" the Hubbard plea deal "rumors."
It's true that, even if a plea deal has been reached, Hubbard can back out until the court accepts it. That means, no matter the status of any plea deal at the moment, a trial still could take place.
According to multiple reports on the Web, the plea deal would call for Hubbard to plead guilty and receive an 18-month prison sentence (six months suspended) in exchange for cooperating with state and federal officials in investigations of Gov. Robert Bentley, Senate President Del Marsh, and former Gov. Bob Riley.
Baxley has called such reports "preposterous," claiming there is "not one grain of truth" to any of them.
We can think of at least two reasons that Baxley's statement should not be taken as the final word on the subject:
(1) Baxley might not know what he's talking about -- The plea-deal reports originated with attorney Donald Watkins, who has provided insightful coverage on a number of Alabama scandals at his Facebook page.
A veteran of numerous high-profile criminal cases, Watkins is well acquainted with the behind-the-scenes process leading to a trial date. Here is what he said about the usual plea-deal process:
Plea deal talks occur in every criminal case. Hubbard’s case is no exception. In high-profile cases, these discussions are usually initiated, in the first instance, through behind-the-scenes intermediaries, rather than direct talks between the trial attorneys. This approach affords prosecutors and defense counsel “plausible deniability” in the event a plea deal is reached in principle and becomes public, or falls through the cracks, before the defendant formally enters his/her guilty plea in court. This approach also allows prosecutors and defense counsel to truthfully say to inquiring reporters that there is “no plea deal” until such time as a deal has been presented in court.
Watkins notes that a guilty verdict on any one of the 23 counts could put Hubbard in prison for two to 20 years. With convictions on roughly half of the counts, the speaker could be looking at a virtual life sentence--although we suspect even a high sentence would be reduced at some point for such a high-profile (white?) defendant.
A trial is extremely risky for Hubbard. Meanwhile, the plea deal described publicly would require him to spend only one year behind bars and give him a chance to pick up the pieces of his life. Writes Watkins:
Again, my sources stand by their account of a plea deal. Hubbard is not bound by any tentative deal reached by intermediaries unless and until he announces it in open court and Judge Walker accepts it. Lawyers in high-profile cases handle plea deals in this fashion in order to avoid the appearance of weakness in their PR spin and trial positions in the event their client elects to proceed with a trial and take his/her chances with a jury verdict.
The deal . . . is an incredibly attractive one for Hubbard and prosecutors. It allows both sides to declare victory.
(2) Baxley might not be telling the truth -- I've seen Bill Baxley in action--up close and personal, you might say. He represented GOP operative Jessica Medeiros Garrison in her defamation lawsuit against me. I saw numerous signs that Baxley and the truth are distant acquaintances, at best. Here are several examples of Baxley engaging in dubious actions in my case:
(b) He accused me a second time of criminal behavior toward his client -- Not content to accuse me of harassment, Baxley sent a second letter that accused me of stalking. Again, I showed in a post that Baxley had careened wildly off the legal tracks. More untruths, used for purposes of drama or threats? I would say yes.
(c) He attacked my credibility via another blogger -- In August 2013, Dothan blogger Rickey Stokes posted an attack piece against Legal Schnauzer, claiming that my reports about Jessica Garrison's extramarital affair with Attorney General Luther Strange were "highly questionable." Stokes said he came to that conclusion after conversations with two unnamed sources, one of whom Stokes said he "would trust with my life in his hands."
Well, I certainly can be fooled, but I wasn't fooled by this. What is Bill Baxley's hometown? Dothan. His brother, Wade (who died in March 2015) was a prominent lawyer there, and his nephew, Hamp, still practices law there. I promptly wrote a post noting that Stokes' sources likely were from the Baxley family. More importantly, I noted that the sources probably did not tell Stokes that a member of the Baxley family represented Jessica Garrison.
A little more than a month later, Stokes admitted in a public forum that Bill Baxley had hoodwinked him; Baxley had been his source, without admitting that he had a vested interest in getting a hit piece printed about me.
Here is part of what Rickey Stokes wrote in the forum:
As to the Dothan Baxley family contacting me about the article, the answer is NO. As to Bill Baxley and I having a telephone conversation over this matter, yes. My entire adult life I have known Bill and Wade Baxley. . . .
That relationship is what resulted in the phone call. And yes, after a conversation with Bill explaining some things to me, not that he was filing a lawsuit against anyone, but answering some questions, resulted in my article.
Translation: Bill Baxley conned Rickey Stokes into writing an attack piece, filled with false information, against me. That raises this question: If Jessica Garrison's defamation case was so strong, why did Baxley feel the need to con a blogger into trying to discredit me? Answer: Garrison's case was not strong, and as a matter of law, court proceedings showed that my reporting was neither false nor defamatory.
Here is one other thing to keep in mind about Bill Baxley and the Hubbard case. For some reason, Baxley (who was a Democrat in his political days) has jumped in bed with some of the sleaziest Republicans Alabama has to offer. We're talking Jessica Garrison, Luther Strange, and others connected to what should be called the Riley Raw Sewage Company. (Motto: "If you don't smell like s--t already, you will when we get through with you.")
Both Baxley and Rob Riley have represented Hubbard at various times in the pre-trial process. Evidence suggests Baxley, Bob Riley, and Rob Riley were involved in various schemes to obstruct the Lee County grand jury. Baxley denounced the plea-deal reports via a May 3 interview with Leland Whaley at radio station WYDE in Birmingham. This is from Whaley's bio at the WYDE Web site:
Leland has worked in public service as a District Director for then US Congressman Bob Riley. Leland was a key campaign manager for Bob Riley’s successful 2002 race for Governor. Leland served in the Riley Administration as Assistant Director in the Alabama Development office overseeing the effort to preserve and recruit military jobs in the Base Realignment and Closure Process. Leland also directed the Alabama Film Office for ADO. Leland has advised dozens of conservative organizations, causes and candidates and has lectured on communication strategy throughout the state of Alabama.
When Baxley wanted to get his message out about the plea deal, he turned to a true-blue Riley-bot. Why might the crusty old lawyer have done that? According to Donald Watkins, a plea deal could result in Hubbard unearthing everything he knows to investigators about Bob Riley--and possibly son, Rob Riley, and daughter, Minda Riley Campbell.
If Baxley has a trace of decency about him--and that has not become apparent to me--perhaps he knows Hubbard's life could be in danger, and he is trying to protect the speaker.
It's also possible Baxley knows reports that Hubbard already has admitted guilt could taint a jury pool if a trial does take place.
Finally, I see three ways Hubbard can get off on these charges, even though it's hard to imagine he has a legit defense on any of them:
(1) Luther Strange's office can screw up the prosecution (a real possibility);
(2) Someone could slip cash to the judge, a prosecutor, or two-three jurors, especially the foreman, to buy a not-guilty verdict (a real possibility). If you think such stuff doesn't happen in America's "justice" system, you are kidding yourself;
(3) White, conservative jurors ignore the evidence and law, and refuse to convict one of their own--especially one with a cute blonde wife, a couple of white kids (including one with the adorable name of "Riley"), and extensive ties to the area's economic and cultural Colossus, Auburn University.
Was Baxley's conversation with Donald Watkins another con game intended to protect his new-found friends in the GOP? Will Donald Watkins fall for it, as did Rickey Stokes?
I doubt it. I suspect Watkins is way too smart for that. Watkins wrote with great deference about Baxley, but I imagine he can see right through a con man.