It looks like we’re all set up for the area’s next great “trial of the century,” as Mobile County License Commissioner Kim Hastie’s day in court has arrived.
One thing about our community, it’s good for producing a trial of the century about every three years or so, and this one is shaping up to be a doozy. Actually, Kim’s days in court will be split between two trials, with the one cranking up this week focused on an indictment against her and her husband John for tax evasion for allegedly failing to report $58,633 they earned from the sale of property. Later in May she’ll face another trial on 17 counts of public corruption, so it’s going to be a busy month for the Hasties.
Will this live up to the trial of former Circuit Court Judge Herman Thomas, with the allegations of sexual encounters with prisoners and a secret chamber in Government Plaza? Could it have the twists and turns of former County Commissioner Steve Nodine’s murder trial a couple of years ago in which he was accused of killing his mistress, then going through a bunch of wild machinations to cover his tracks? Both of those trials were nail-biters, and in both cases the defendant was able to avoid conviction.
Hastie’s case certainly is missing the eye-popping strangeness of a judge accused of spanking grown men’s naked butts in his secret chambers. And thankfully there is no one dead at the center of Hastie’s situation — but still, it has its own brand of weird drama.
The night after jury selection began, for instance, the government filed allegations that John Hastie was attempting to tamper with the jury pool. The feds also alleged another instance of attempted jury tampering the next day, but details were few.
“The United States has evidence that defendant John Hastie contacted an individual under his employ and directed him to initiate contact with at least one prospective juror for the purpose of influencing that juror’s opinions at trial,” the filing reads.
It sounds like a plotline from a bad TV show. I can almost imagine J.R. Ewing ordering some underling to deliver an envelope of cash to the jury foreman.
The one thing all three of these trials do have in common is the people at the center all had/have some very staunch defenders. With Herman there were rallies where people stood up and talked about a racist conspiracy against the spanking judge. For Nodine there was a hard-core group that bought into the concept of a vast conspiracy against “The Hammer.”
In Kim Hastie’s case, there are many who say she’s just too “sweet” to do anything wrong. A couple of months ago her supporters began calling and writing letters alleging a government conspiracy against her, spearheaded by other elected officials in the community. Hopefully some of that will float to the surface during the trial.
Just like in the other two trials, the evidence looks pretty damning for the defendants, but again, don’t forget neither Herman nor Steve were convicted. So there’s hope for Hastie.
Though I don’t know her well, some of what Hastie had to say during a meeting with my co-publisher and myself last year ended up not being true and we have recordings of her also telling our reporter things that weren’t true, then calling back to change her story. Lying to newspaper people isn’t a crime, of course, and if it were, most of the U.S. Congress would be in the slammer. Still, it doesn’t look good.
When we met with Hastie I told her my only big issue with her plan to combine the Mobile County License Commission and the County Revenue Commission was that there has always seemed to be almost no oversight of what these two elected officials are doing. So often it seems like the people in those positions can do whatever they want and face almost no scrutiny, mostly because what they do is kind of boring and there aren’t public meetings to discuss what’s happening. They’re really run like semi-benevolent dictatorships as far as I can tell.
Kim giggled when I voiced my concerns and said that type of thing is nothing anyone would have to worry about if she was overseeing things. But it wasn’t long after when we started hearing rumors of pending indictments.
It’s going to be interesting when we finally get to see the government lay its cards on the table in terms of what they’ve alleged Hastie and her deputy commissioner Ramona Yeager did and why they did it. The basic reason seems to be it was all a power grab in order to get the two commissions consolidated and control all that money. We’ll see if the feds are able to make that contention stick.
Frankly, with all of the indictments swirling around her, regardless of her guilt or innocence I feel Hastie would probably best serve the community by stepping down and letting someone run the office, even if it leads to us having 11-minute tags. It’s hard to imagine being able to effectively do much of anything when you’re faced with decades of jail time and financial ruin.
If she’s exonerated, Kim could always run again for revenue commissioner, or whatever else floats her boat. But I doubt she’ll step down if she hasn’t so far.
So we’ll all be settled in for a month of Hastie madness and maybe another peek behind the scenes at how many things get done in our local government.
Will she get nailed for tax evasion? If so, will she take a plea deal on the other charges? Will any more jurors be tempted by tampering? Who paid who what and how?
It’s got all the makings of a great trial. So at the very least, even if Hastie wasn’t the best public servant, we’re likely to at least going to get our 10 minutes of entertainment out of this.