At the end of last week, Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker sentenced former Speaker of the Alabama House Mike Hubbard to a mere four years in prison for his conviction on 12 felony ethics charges. The Auburn Republican is still out on bail, pending what his defense team says is a soon-to-come appeal.
Hubbard, who had served in the Statehouse for 18 years, was convicted of a dozen violations of an ethics law he’d championed in his role as speaker, a position he gained in 2010 when the GOP wrested total control of state government from Democrats for the first time in over a century.
Although Hubbard was charged with 23 counts, a jury of Lee County citizens — nine men and seven women, nine black and seven white — convicted him of only about half the charges. Hubbard was found guilty of seven counts of receiving money from an organization that lobbies the Statehouse, two counts of lobbying while a legislator and single counts of using his office for personal gain, voting on legislation that benefited a company that paid him for “consulting,” and using state personnel to benefit another “client.”
During the sentencing hearing, several public figures (who should all be ashamed of themselves) testified as character witnesses on Hubbard’s behalf, asking for a reduced sentence, including U.S. House Rep. Mike Rogers, Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller and Auburn City Council member Gene Dulaney.
“It’s my hope that this court will treat Mike Hubbard the same as it would any other first offender,” Rep. Rogers told Judge Walker during the hearing. Perhaps Rep. Rogers should be reminded that even first-time felony convicts don’t stay out on bail during their appeals, a privilege Hubbard is somehow being afforded.
Prosecutor Matt Hart, though, rightfully argued a stiff sentence (at least what he considers stiff) was necessary to send a serious message to those watching.
“People are watching this case. Public officials are watching this case, and the citizens are watching this case,” Hart said.
Ultimately, Judge Walker sentenced Hubbard to serve four of the five years in prison that prosecutors had asked of the court. Because of what Walker cited as a “lack of case law,” however, Hubbard was only ordered to pay $210,000 in fines and $2,900 to the Crime Victims Compensation Fund. He had been convicted of gaining $1.2 million illegally, and prosecutors had asked for a $1.6 million fine. Potentially Hubbard could have faced up to 20 years in prison on each charge according to the ethics law, a sentence that would have totaled 240 years. But apparently in Alabama politics 12 felonies x 20 years per count = only four years in prison, a conclusion even Hubbard himself would condemn as “Common Core math.”
Perhaps, at a minimum, Hubbard should have been sentenced to 18 years in prison, the length of time he served in the Alabama House. To be perfectly fair, maybe Hubbard should have spent 136 years in prison — the amount of time he’s said it took Republicans to “liberate Alabama from Democrat rule.” Alabama should be liberated, no doubt, but it needs to be freed of an entirely bipartisan group: corrupt politicians — Democrats and Republicans alike — like Mike Hubbard.
After the hearing, Hubbard did not speak to the press, but his defense team did. Former state attorney general Bill Baxley, one of Hubbard’s lawyers, reiterated to media after the sentencing his long-standing contention that the trial was a “political witch hunt” and he vowed to “appeal it” to the highest court possible.
“This is a case where I believe with all my being, after everything that we’ve gone through, that Mike Hubbard is absolutely innocent of every charge he’s been found guilty of,” Baxley told press gathered at the Lee County Courthouse.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange also spoke out after the sentence was handed down. Strange had recused himself from the case, instead appointing career prosecutor W. Van Davis as acting attorney general in the case.
“Today’s sentence of former Speaker Mike Hubbard to serve prison time for corruption in office is a turning point in our state. No longer can elected officials expect to disregard our laws and not pay a penalty. I am proud of the work of my Special Prosecutions team for ensuring that justice has been served and appreciate Van Davis’ leadership and service in this matter.”
While top Democrats in the state did not immediately respond to the Hubbard sentence, Craig Ford, the House Minority Leader, said Hubbard’s conviction alone was “a dark day for Alabama.”
“[Hubbard’s conviction was] a dark day for Alabama. Mike Hubbard led Republicans to a supermajority on a platform of cleaning up corruption in Montgomery. But instead of cleaning up corruption, Mike Hubbard and the Republican leadership in all three branches of our government have embraced corruption. They have forgotten they are supposed to serve the people, and not the other way around.”
Hubbard has 45 days to file an appeal, and is still out on bail. Whenever an appeal is filed, Hubbard could be allowed to remain out on appeal bond until its legal conclusion. His defense team has indeed already filed briefs alleging juror misconduct in the trial.
Hubbard has consistently maintained he is innocent of all the charges against him.
Nearly half a dozen Republicans have already thrown their hats in the ring to fill Mike Hubbard’s now-vacant House seat once a special election is called. Several Republicans and one Democrat have said they plan to run for Hubbard’s former position as speaker when the Legislature meets for its next regular session in early 2017.