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Court upholds ex-Alabama House speaker’s ethics convictions

August 28, 2018

FILE - In this Thursday, June 9, 2016, file photo, Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard enters the courtroom during his trial, in Opelika, Ala. An appellate court on Monday, Aug. 27, 2018, upheld the ethics conviction of former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, whose rising political career came to a crashing halt in 2016 when he was found guilty of using his office to benefit his businesses. (Todd J. Van Emst/Opelika-Auburn News via AP, Pool, File)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An appellate court on Monday upheld the ethics conviction of former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, whose rising political career came to a crashing halt in 2016 when he was found guilty of using his office to benefit his businesses.

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed 11 of the 12 counts against Hubbard. In its 154-page decision, the court ruled there was sufficient evidence to convict Hubbard on those counts, including that he improperly asked lobbyists and company executives for both consulting work and investments in his debt-ridden printing business.

The heavily anticipated decision was a blow for the Hubbard defense, which had argued that prosecutors acted improperly and stretched the intent of the state’s ethics statute, and a victory for state prosecutors who had argued Hubbard behaved corruptly.

“I’m in shock,” Hubbard defense attorney Bill Baxley said Monday afternoon. Baxley said he was just beginning to review the decision, but would recommend that Hubbard appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court.

Mike Lewis, a spokesman for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, said the office was reviewing the decision and did not have an immediate comment.

Hubbard, from Auburn, was for years one of the state’s most influential Republicans. He served as chairman of the Alabama Republican Party and was a key architect of the GOP strategy that led to Republicans in 2010 taking control of the Alabama Legislature for the first time in more than a century. He was indicted, and later convicted on ethics charges that he used the mantle of his office to help his businesses. He was automatically removed from office when he was convicted on the felony charges.

Several of the counts against Hubbard accuse him of violating a ban on public officials soliciting things of “value” from company “principals.” A principal under state law is a person or business who employs a lobbyist to influence the Alabama Legislature.

The court rejected Hubbard’s arguments that the transactions were aboveboard business dealings in which investors and companies that employed him were getting a getting a fair value for their money.

“The language of the statute here is clear and unambiguous. Hubbard, as a public official, was prohibited from soliciting or receiving a thing of value from a principal,” the court wrote.

The court also rejected arguments by the former speaker that the prosecution was tainted by prosecutorial and juror misconduct.

While upholding 11 of the 12 counts against Hubbard, the court scolded legislators for what it described as ambiguities in the state ethics law.

“We strongly encourage the legislature to consider amending the law to better circumscribe the class of persons defined as principals, and to more clearly explain several of the other 34 definitions embodied in (the ethics law). ... The language of Alabama’s ethics law should be clear as to which persons, businesses, and acts fall within its reach,” judges wrote.

The court reversed one count: that Hubbard should have known he had a conflict of interest when he voted on a budget bill containing language that could have possibly benefited one of his clients.

A judge sentenced Hubbard to four years in prison, but he is free on bond as he appeals.

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