Monday, April 13, 2020

The Alabama Supreme Court tried to treat Mike Hubbard with kid gloves, but it ultimately upheld six convictions, meaning the ex-speaker's road to prison started with grotesque financial incompetence

Mike Hubbard (The New Republic)

After siting on the case for roughly two years, the Alabama Supreme Court on Friday announced it had upheld six convictions against former House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), while reversing on five counts. That chops the total convictions from 12 that a Lee County Jury imposed almost four years ago, and it comes two years (August 2018) after the Alabama Court of Court of Criminal Appeals upheld all but one of the original 12 convictions. In all, the Supreme Court's findings come almost six years after Hubbard was indicted for alleged violations of the state ethics law.

The extended legal drama leaves a number of compelling questions:

(1) Q. Hubbard has yet to spend a moment behind bars, but with six felony convictions now firmly imposed against him, will he finally don an orange jumpsuit?

A: it's hard to see how he will escape prison time now. Hubbard's original sentence was four years, and given the five overturned counts, that could be reduced -- and we certainly can expect more stalling tactics from his attorneys. But time as a jailbird certainly appears to be in Hubbard's future. In fact, reports the following:

Jenny Carroll, a professor at the University of Alabama Law School, said today the Court of Criminal Appeals has the option of reconsidering the five charges that were reversed by the Supreme Court or sending the case back to the trial court.

Carroll said the trial judge could re-sentence Hubbard now that six of the 12 charges he was initially found guilty of have been reversed.

The Court of Criminal Appeals or the trial court could revoke Hubbard’s appeal bond, which would require him to report to jail by a specific date, according to Carroll.

The former speaker has the option of filing a federal court appeal because he has raised constitutional issues, Carroll said.

(2) Q. Why did the Supreme Court wait so long on issuing the Hubbard opinion?

A:  From here, it looks like the court was stalling to come up with some way to let Hubbard skate. Ultimately, it appears, the case against Hubbard was so strong that they could find no way to let him off completely.

Josh Moon, of Alabama Political Reporter's (APR), writing last November about criminal charges against Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely (along with insights from Blakely's attorney, Robert Tuten), blasted the high court's handling of the Hubbard matter:

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.

In other words, there was no legitimate reason for the delay, so the Supremes spparently were trying to grant Hubbard  a gigantic favor -- in the form of a "Get Out of Jail Free Card."

(3) Q: If the Supremes wanted to let Hubbard off the hook, why didn't they do it?

A:  I can only speculate on this for the moment, but this much we know: Alabama is a GOP-dominated state, but that dominance has hit shaky ground in recent years. In addition to Hubbard's ignominious exit from public office, former Gov. Robert Bentley and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore were forced out amid allegations of corruption. Right-wing Birmingham law firm Balch Bingham and its corporate benefactor, Alabama Power, are under intense scrutiny from the North Birmingham Superfund scandal and other apparent misdeeds. Former Business Council of Alabama (BCA) chief Bill Canary, a longtime chum of GOP power brokers Karl Rove and Tom Donohue, was shown the door. Has the environment in Alabama, at least behind the scenes, changed to the extent that the Supremes felt it was too risky to let Hubbard off the hook altogether?

Here is a take on this question from APR's Bill Britt, writing last July:

From the beginning, Hubbard’s case was fraught with political intrigue as wealthy donors, political operatives, radio talk-show hosts, media-types and lawmakers worked to upend indictments brought by the Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Division.

Even now, many of those same forces seek to overturn Hubbard’s conviction.

In the last election cycle, some of Hubbard’s most ardent supporters gave heavily to the campaigns of the justices who are now charged with ruling on his appeal.

Legitimate media, however, over the course of Hubbard’s trial turned from tacit skeptics to hardened critics of Hubbard’s dubious deeds while leading the Republican House supermajority. Most lawmakers who paid blind obedience to Hubbard while speaker have now abandoned him and pray privately for a speedy end to the matter.

(4) Q. How did Hubbard get into such trouble in the first place? Isn't he smart enough not to run afoul of the very ethics laws he had championed?

A: This might be the most fascinating question of all. Published reports indicate the Hubbard case, at its heart, is a story of white entitlement, of a so-called businessman who couldn't even keep his family finances in order. He felt entitled to all kinds of extravagances that he couldn't afford. When Hubbard's personal balance sheet started looking grim, he turned to wealthy GOP supporters, in desperation, for help -- and that led to his ethics problems. In short, Hubbard touts his "pro business" credentials, but he's a bad businessman -- one who probably should not be entrusted with his own checkbook, much less the people's business.  Consider this from The New Republic's Joe Miller, in a 2016 article titled "Beyond Mike Hubbard: How Deep Does Corruption in Alabama Go?'" Miller focuses heavily on the relationship between Hubbard and Bill Canary:

And throughout the five years Hubbard held this power, Canary enjoyed a standing weekly meeting with him in the speaker’s office during legislative sessions, where they shaped the agenda for the entire state.

But they also talked about personal matters—especially the speaker’s financial woes. When he formally assumed the speakership in January 2011, Hubbard lost his private-sector job and was left with a handful of struggling businesses in Auburn, one of which was in arrears on its payroll taxes and on the brink of bankruptcy. He was drawing $60,000 a year from the state for his part-time legislator job—though that is almost 50 percent more than the average household earns annually in Alabama—and his wife Susan brought in about $150,000 from Auburn University, where she is a dean. In bank documents, the Hubbards reported a net worth of $8.8 million, with large holdings of stocks, several commercial properties, a large home in Auburn, a lake house, a vacation farm, and a beach condo in the Florida Panhandle, known by locals as the Redneck Riviera. But it wasn’t enough.

Mike and Susan Hubbard were worth $8.8 million, but they could not balance the books while living in east Alabama, where real-estate prices hardly are like those in Manhattan? Is it possible they could not afford a lake house, a vacation farm, and a beach condo -- to go with their large primary residence in Auburn -- but as white power brokers running in high-flying circles, they felt entitled to have such possessions?

Bottom line: Mike Hubbard now officially is a felon, and that will not go away: his case certainly is about criminality, but it started with financial stupidity and incompetence on a massive scale.

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