Hart, who has served as a prosecutor at both the state and federal levels, perhaps is best known for leading the case against former House Speaker Mike Hubbard -- who was convicted in June 2016 on 12 counts of ethics violations, but has not spent one second in prison because of a curiously prolonged appeals process.
Knowledgeable observers say Hart's firing probably was in the works for several months -- likely delayed only by the need for Marshall to win election in the Nov. 6 midterms -- driven by corporate and political interests who want to make sure Hubbard stays out of prison and isn't tempted to open up to prosecutors about his moneyed and power-hungry cohorts. Writes Josh Moon, of Alabama Political Reporter (APR):
The most feared man in Alabama politics has been fired.
Alabama prosecutor Matt Hart, who until Monday headed up the special prosecutions unit at the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, was unceremoniously fired by AG Steve Marshall. A brief statement from Marshall’s office said Hart resigned and refused to comment otherwise.
However, a source told APR on Monday that Hart was informed of the decision on Monday morning and given the option of resigning instead of being fired. He was then escorted out of the building by security.
The firing of Hart was not necessarily surprising to anyone who paid attention to the recent election and Marshall’s run for AG. As APR reported in numerous stories, Marshall accepted campaign donations from several sources with interests in weakening ethics laws and seeing Hart removed.
Moon noted some of the high-profile cases where Hart has been involved:
Hart’s career spans decades in the state and includes high-profile prosecutions of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
He was a particular thorn in the side of politicians who skirted the ethics laws. He prosecuted and earned a 12-count conviction of former GOP Speaker Mike Hubbard. He negotiated a guilty plea and resignation from former Gov. Robert Bentley. And his special grand jury in Jefferson County was digging through the scheme to undermine an EPA superfund site.
That last item (highlighted in yellow) caught the eye of Alabama political insider Jill Simpson. From a post at her Facebook page:
Notice a couple of things from Josh Moon article on Matt Hart. Matt was digging into the Superfund matter, which leads directly to the folks who helped Marshall get those $735,000 in illegal funds from RAGA [Republican Attorneys General Association] to win the attorney general race. Also notice Mike Hubbard's appeal is still up, and with Hart removed, Marshall and Rob [Riley] can let Hubbard go.
Al.com's John Archibald, who long has had a man crush on Hart, called the firing "the end of an era":
Anyone who watched Alabama government in recent years saw this coming.
They saw it when Marshall took tens of thousands in contributions from the company owned by Alabama’s richest man Jimmy Rane – who invested in a Hubbard business. They saw it when Rane, who made no bones about his contempt for Hart, gave hundreds of thousands to Gov. Kay Ivey and was appointed to lead her inaugural committee. He even lent his Great Southern Wood airplane for her campaign use.
They saw it when Marshall took campaign contributions from Hubbard investors, witnesses and supporters, and they saw it when Marshall looked down as Alabama politicians tried to chip away at the very ethics law that put people like Hubbard in court.
I don’t know exactly what happened this week to force Matt Hart out of his job as head of the special prosecutions unit. Hart declined to comment, and Marshall did not respond personally to the question. . . .
But it was no shock.
I predicted in April Marshall would show Hart the door as soon as he was re-elected. He was re-elected less than two weeks ago.
It doesn’t take an investigation to figure it out. The time was right. Marshall has four years to live it down before he comes back up for election.
He’s banking that Alabama will forget.
Unlike Archibald and Moon, I have reservations about Hart, particularly from his days as a federal prosecutor under the abominably corrupt U.S. attorney Alice Martin. I applaud Hart's work on the Hubbard case, but I'm not sure he deserves the "above-reproach, good-guy" label some have placed on him.
Like a lot of folks, Hart has a history of going along to get along in the workplace. Under the right leadership -- or given a free rein -- he can be effective. Under poor leadership, not so much.
Some already are speculating that Hart might return to his previous role as a federal prosecutor. If that happens -- and with Jeff Sessions ousted from the Department of Justice -- Hart might have a chance to help clean up a state that desperately needs it.
We saw signs during the Hubbard case that Hart might be interested in dismantling the Riley Political Machine, which forms the nexus for much of Alabama's corruption. In fact, that might be the No. 1 reason Marshall fired him. If Hart is, in fact, determined to take down the Rileys -- and lands in a position to do something about it -- the days of Alabama being a justice backwater might be over.