Dozens of Alabama’s political elite won’t be parting ways after the legislative session in Montgomery ends. Instead, more than a fifth of state senators and over half a dozen House representatives may find themselves headed to Lee County in mid-May to respond to subpoenas in the felony ethics trial of Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn).
The Lee County Circuit Court recently released a list of the Attorney General’s 135 requests for subpoenas in Hubbard’s long-delayed trial. Hubbard was charged with 23 felony ethics violations in October 2014, but his trial has been delayed five times at the request of Hubbard’s attorneys — and they’ve requested a sixth postponement.
Before Hubbard’s indictment, rumors were swirling across the state about the notorious “Lee County grand jury.” In Alabama, grand jury testimony is secret, a caveat that had initially obscured its intentions — to investigate potential public corruption.
That year’s legislative session also saw the resignation and guilty plea of former Rep. Greg Wren (R-Montgomery) on misdemeanor ethics charges, and rumors around the State House swirled. What was going on in Lee County? Who were they going after? Why now?
The most common sentiment you’d hear during those times even found its way onto a mysteriously distributed bumper sticker popular in the parking decks of Montgomery: “Honk if you testified in Lee County!”
Now, two years later, one of Alabama’s most powerful politicians is set to go on trial in his home county, and the view is much clearer.
The list of 135 potential witnesses crisscrosses Alabama’s political landscape and includes everyone from Gov. Robert Bentley to the universally respected Clerk of the House, Jeff Woodard. Nine of Alabama’s 35 state senators — Del Marsh, Gerald Dial, Bill Holtzclaw, Clay Scofield, Jimmy Holley, Gerald Allen, Paul Bussman, and Greg Reed — made the potential witness list, in addition to an even longer list of House representatives: Steve Clouse, Paul Lee, Donnie Chesteen, Lynn Greer, James Carns, Allen Farley, Mark Tuggle and Terri Collins.
Many of these lawmakers, as well as some of the others on the witness list, were involved in the 2010 “Storming the Statehouse” campaign led by Hubbard, who was then the state’s Republican party chairman.
The campaign was successful in garnering the ALGOP its first hold on state political power in modern history and resulted in Hubbard’s election as speaker. The financial and political logistics of that takeover, though, are now just one of many issues a Lee County jury will face in the coming weeks. Hubbard faces allegations of making questionable financial arrangements to garner political funding as well as business for his Auburn-based communications company.
He also faces allegations he approved language added to the 2013 Medicaid budget to benefit a business interest of his and former Rep. Wren. Just last week, prosecutors with the AG’s office announced they will also introduce evidence of crimes for which Hubbard has not (yet) been charged in an effort to establish a pattern of bad behavior on the Speaker’s part.
Those new allegations include claims Hubbard misrepresented an alleged “approval” of the behavior he’s being prosecuted for by the Alabama Ethics Commission. Several mayors, past and present, are also set to receive an invitation to testify for a jury of Hubbard’s peers: Kenneth Boswell of Enterprise, Dexter McLendon of Greenville, Fletcher Fountain of Fort Deposit, Billy Blackwell of Ozark and Jay Jaxon of Eufaula.
Many former state officials are also set to receive subpoenas, including former Gov. Bob Riley, recently retired State Health Officer Don Williamson and previous Lt. Gov. Steve Windom, among others. Also in the witness pool are former ethics commissioners.
The business community should see no shortage in representation at the Hubbard trial. Business Council of Alabama Chairman Bill Canary and representatives of several companies from across the Yellowhammer State will make the journey to Lee County Courthouse, where — who knows — they may even be able to score a meeting with Director of Commerce Greg Canfield, who’s also set to appear.
Education policymakers, banking professionals, lobbyists and state executive officials also populate the state’s potential witness list, which is 30 pages long. The Hubbard trial guest list is already packed and is likely to grow as the defense makes its requests, but at least there’s one upside for the Alabama politicos embroiled in the affair: no RSVP required.