Today federal prosecutors attacked the merits an economic study commissioned by Mobile County License Commissioner Kim Hastie that ultimately concluded the merger of Hastie’s office and the Mobile County Revenue Commission would save taxpayers around $2 million per year.
According to court documents filed Feb. 27, Hastie’s attorneys notified the court of their intentions to qualify the study’s author, Dr. Semoon Chang, as an expert witness in Hastie’s impending trial.
However, federal prosecutors have asked the court to prevent testimony from Chang because it’s unrelated to Hastie’s alleged criminal charges and could unnecessarily complicate the case and confuse a potential jury.
“Hastie’s trial should not descend into a mini-trial about the merits of her merger plan,” the prosecution’s request reads. “Hastie is soliciting Dr. Chang’s testimony in an attempt to use good conduct evidence to improperly bolster her credibility before the jury. She is seeking to rely upon self-serving testimony that is inherently hearsay and speculative.”
Prosecutors made the request to bar Chang’s testimony based on Rule 403, which states that a court may exclude evidence if its probative value is “substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.”
The Department of Justice’s objection to the study is based on a two factor. First, prosecutors believe, because Hastie’s merger never went through and became Alabama law, Chang’s study would be based on “pure speculation.”
“Second, Dr. Chang’s study is biased and unpublished,” the motion alleges. “The study was not commissioned or authorized by the Mobile County Commission. In fact, the County Commission had no knowledge of the study until after Hastie had been indicted.”
Chang’s study was discussed publicly by Hastie before her legal troubles began, and was disseminated by her supporters and attorneys on the day her indictment came down, a fact that is also acknowledged in the latest court documents.
Prosecutors proceed to say the study was “not an independent, thorough review of the subject of combining the offices” and was produced “surreptitiously” or secretly in addition to containing “few proper citations.”
“Dr. Chang’s testimony would mislead the jury and would be highly prejudicial,” the government’s request says. “Such evidence would create a jury nullification argument along the following lines: ‘Hastie lobbied for the merger. Dr. Chang said the merger was a good idea for Mobile County. Therefore, Hastie is a good person and she is not guilty.’”
In summation, prosecutors said the jury shouldn’t be asked to decide “if the merger would have been a good idea,” but whether Hastie engaged in the criminal activity the government is alleging.
Chang said he’d been visited by the FBI on multiple occasions since the indictment was made public, but hasn’t maintained contact with Hastie.
“There has been no contact between me and Commissioner Hastie’s office since the indictment, while FBI agents visited my home twice during the time,” Chang said. “I never said that “she is not guilty,” because whether she is guilty or not is totally beyond my expertise.”
Updated at 9:49 a.m., March 3, to add comments from Dr. Semoon Chang.