Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker III this morning sentenced Hubbard to four years in prison, eight years on probation and ordered him to pay a $210,000 fine on 12 felony ethics convictions. Hubbard was not ordered to pay restitution, even though evidence showed (and a jury found) that he used his public office to enrich himself by more than $1 million. Also, Hubbard was allowed to remain free, pending an appeal.
What kind of sentence is this? In a word, it is noxious.
Each count for which Hubbard was convicted carried a range of two to 20 years in prison. At a minimum, Hubbard was facing 24 years behind bars for his 12 convictions. But he got four years? We're supposed to believe that represents justice? We're supposed to believe Alabama judges take white-collar corruption seriously? We're supposed to believe Mike Hubbard didn't receive special treatment because he's white and male and "conservative"?
Most importantly, we're supposed to believe the rule of law holds in Alabama courts? Don't make me laugh.
The office of Attorney General Luther Strange started this charade by asking that Hubbard be incarcerated for five years. But less than two years ago, Strange asked for 50-year sentences in the ethics-law case of former state education official Deann Stone and her husband, Dave Stone.
How does "justice" work in "Big Lutha World"? If your name is Deann Stone or Dave Stone, Lutha wants to put you away for 50 years. If your name is Mike Hubbard, and you long have been connected to the Riley Inc. political machine, Lutha wants you to get five years -- and these are cases that were governed by the same law and presented similar facts, under the same attorney general.
Judge Walker, who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and long has been part of the legal elite in east Alabama, is even worse than Strange. He sentences Hubbard to four years, orders no restitution, and allows the former speaker to remain free pending an appeal.. For good measure, Judge Walker had a clear conflict of interest all along, but Strange's office never bothered to challenge whether Walker was suited (under the law) to hear the case at all.
|Judge Jacob Wlker III|
But that's not all. Consider Baxley's words today regarding an appeal:
"I believe with all my being after everything we’ve gone through that Mike Hubbard is absolutely innocent of every charge he was found guilty of," Baxley told Walker Friday.
That might just be the blathering of an old lawyer who gave up the moral high ground years ago to serve the interests of corrupt conservatives. But consider this from Baxley about one week ago:
"Mark my words, the verdict will not stand," Baxley said.
Is that more blathering or does Baxley have inside knowledge about how the appellate process is likely to play out? That's not an off-the-wall question when you consider that trial testimony showed Hubbard considered funneling $10 million to the state court system, just in case he might need a favor someday from Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Consider these words from Joe Miller's report at The New Republic:
Hubbard had his own reasons for saving $10 million that went beyond closing holes in the budget. According to testimony, he was hoping to carve off $10 million that he could shift to the state’s court system, which was run by Roy Moore. (Moore is currently under suspension for ordering court officials statewide to disobey a mandate from the federal courts to grant marriage license to same-sex couples.) Hubbard—who at the time was the subject of a grand jury investigation—reportedly believed that if he could help Moore, Moore might be of help to him at some point in the future. The parties involved were on board with this plan, too.
Perhaps some Alabamians have been conned into believing that Hubbard's convictions before a jury of his peers in his home county mean state courts have been renewed. It's much too early to buy into that. It's hard to see where there were any errors of fact or law at the trial level. But don't be surprised if Roy Moore and Co. overturn Hubbard's convictions anyway. Don't be surprised if Mike Hubbard never sets foot in a prison cell.
Judge Walker's sentencing today might be the first official sign that something smells to high heaven in Lee County.