Prosecutors seemed to be working backward on Tuesday, opening their case against Mobile County License Commissioner Kim Hastie with testimony related to the last of 17 charges she’ll face in the coming weeks.
Count 17 was added to Hastie’s federal indictment in January of 2015 and accuses her of intentionally disseminating more than 30,000 private email addresses from the License Commission’s database. Those emails were then given to the mayoral campaign of Sandy Stimpson.
With five witnesses called on the matter, the defense had yet to deny Hastie’s involvement with the acquisition of those emails at the end of the first day’s testimony.
Brad Bray, an employee of the License Commission since 2007, was the prosecution’s first witness. He testified that Hastie initially asked him to “send an email she had already written up” expressing her support for Stimpson.
According to Bray, when he declined the order, Hastie asked for a list of email addresses of Mobile residents from the database used in the renewal of vehicle tags. In his testimony, Bray said email addresses are required in order to renew a vehicle tag online. He also said Hastie has strongly pushed employees to collect email addresses during in-person renewals.
Bray said he delivered a thumb drive with emails on it to Hastie’s assistant just days before the election in August of 2013.
“I specified the query to only include residents of Mobile and the date range she told me, which was about a year prior to that date,” Bray told the jury. “Mrs. Hastie told me about the parameters and what she wanted.”According to Bray, that wasn’t the first time Hastie had asked him to use the email database for something other than License Commission business. In his testimony, he said Hastie had previously asked him to monitor the incoming and outgoing emails of another License Commission employee.
As their second witness, prosecutors called Candace Cooksey to stand. Cooksey does public relations work for the public relations firm Strateco, but in 2013 she was the finance director and fundraiser for the Stimpson campaign.
Cooksey testified to working directly with Hastie preparing to send out a mass email in support of Stimpson prior to the 2013 election against incumbent Mayor Samuel Jones.
Despite that agreement, Cooksey said all the emails she exchanged with Hastie were sent to an address registered to her daughter, Hannah Hastie. Cooksey said that was the address Hastie told her to use when discussing the email campaign, and the prosecution produced subpoenaed text messages to support that testimony.
U.S. Attorney Gregory Bordenkircher presented a series of emails between Cooksey, Hastie and James Arendall of Webjed, the web development company that ran Stimpson’s campaign website.
Those emails were exchanged in the days and weeks prior the election in August of 2013.
Attached to some of the messages were several drafts of the body text, professional photos of Hastie and a 700-kilobyte file named “MCLC email list.” Bordenkircher later asked Arendall if he knew MCLC was an abbreviation for the Mobile County License Commission, and Arendall replied, “I do now.”
When asked about where the “MCLC email list” came from, Cooksey said she didn’t remember the exact date she received it but did say she knew it came from Hastie. Cooksey was also asked about the prosecution’s first piece of evidence, a video interview Hastie did with WKRG after the mass email caused a backlash from several county residents.
In the video, Hastie says, “We haven’t given anyone’s email information to anyone,” but in her testimony, Cooksey said those statements to WKRG were not true.
Hastie has since been sued civilly by two Mobile County residents for the same allegations laid out in the indictment. Those same residents filed a complaint with the county last September, according to sources close to the matter, the outcome of Hastie’s criminal charges could have an effect on the county’s liability in that civil matter.
Despite testimony supporting the allegations in Count 17, the defense attorneys focused much of their cross-examination on a statement Bray made during his testimony about being retaliated against for initially refusing to send the emails at Hastie’s request.
Those allegations were based on performance reviews Bray said he received from Hastie’s co-defendant, Deputy License Commissioner Ramona Yeager.
Led by prosecutors, Bray testified he had never received anything but excellent reviews in his seven years of employment with the License Commission until Hastie and Yeager were indicted in November 2014.
Following that incident, Bray said he received a performance reduction on his next evaluation — receiving a “high-quality” rating.
Yeager’s attorney, Dennis Knizley, questioned whether Bray considered “high-quality” to be a bad rating, and Bray responded saying he felt it was only the first step. He claimed previous employees had their performance levels systematically downgraded until they were ultimately terminated.
In that performance review, Yeager described Bray as “not a team player” and said his “attitude had changed.” Next to that comment, Bray had handwritten “that’s because I was thrust into two criminal cases involving our office.”
Neil Hanley, Hastie’s defense attorney, seemed to suggest Bray had indeed changed his attitude around the office. He asked Bray several questions, including whether he had made “derogatory statements” about Hastie to other employees of the License Commission.
Bray admitted he had discussed Hastie in a negative way, but only with other employees who “shared the same negative experiences.” He also said the employees he spoke with were “on the right team,” which Hanley quickly asked him to expand on.
“I think if somebody in our office is committing crimes, that person is on the wrong team,” Bray said.
On the stand, the prosecution also used Bray to double down on a claim from its opening statements about the “10-minute tags” campaign Hastie championed during her run for office in 2008.
Though he did admit during cross-examination Hastie’s “greeter” and “voucher systems” are a component of the program, Bray said the majority “10-minute tags” rests on a program designed by Victor Crawford, the contract employee who initiated the FBI probe into Hastie’s office last Spring.
“She didn’t help design the program,” Bray said. “She does not know anything about it, because she’s never taken an interest in how the office runs at all.”
After five witnesses, Mobile County Revenue Commissioner Marilyn Wood took the stand, but her testimony was interrupted as the jury was released for the day. After court was adjourned, a U.S. Attorney told Lagniappe the United States had witnesses planned well into next week.