KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) — Prosecutors and defense lawyers in the ethics trial of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard will make their final attempt to sway jurors Friday morning before the panel begins deliberating the fate of the Deep South Republican.
The lawyers, in the conclusion of closing arguments that began Thursday, are expected to offer dueling views of the 54-year-old Republican, portraying him as either: A greedy man who used the power of his office, sometimes ignoring the warnings of friends, in order to bring $2.3 million in business to his companies or a citizen legislator trying to earn a living and targeted by overzealous state prosecutors with a strident interpretation of the state ethics law.
Jurors are expected to begin deliberations sometime Friday.
“Look at your notes and figure out, did at any point in time, did Mike Hubbard intentionally violate the law?” defense lawyer Lance Bell told jurors Thursday, adding that the answer was “no.”
A state prosecutor argued that Hubbard effectively put a “for sale” sign on his public office as he obtained consulting contracts for tens of thousands of dollars each month.
“He was selling his office. He just put a ‘for sale’ sign in front of the speaker’s office. That’s what he did,” Deputy Attorney General Michael Duffy told jurors Thursday. “He has diminished the integrity of our government … because he wanted to make some money.”
Hubbard pleaded not guilty to 23 felony ethics charges. Prosecutors accused him of steering GOP campaign work to his printing company; breaking a prohibition on soliciting “a thing of value” by taking consulting contracts or asking political allies, who were also lobbyists, for help finding a job; using the power of his office to benefit those clients; and asking lobbyists and company heads for $150,000 investments in his printing company.
Jurors will weigh whether the transactions violated state law or, as the defense claims, fell within exemptions for longstanding friendships and normal business dealings.
Duffy argued to jurors Thursday that it wasn’t friendship that motivated lobbyists and company heads to invest $150,000 in Hubbard’s debt-ridden printing company.
“They wanted things from him and he wanted things from them,” Duffy said.
Defense lawyer Bell lampooned what he called the prosecution’s “nothing” case, at one point sitting in the witness box as he argued no prosecution witnesses ever said they gave Hubbard jobs and money because of his position as speaker.
“Tell me one person who sat right here,” Bell said as patted the podium, “and said the reason I made that investment is because he is speaker of the House.”
Prosecutors and defense lawyers agree that the business came to Hubbard’s companies, but have offered jurors different interpretations of why and of Hubbard’s actions.
Hubbard was the architect of Alabama Republicans’ 2010 offensive to win control of the Alabama Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. After the victory, Hubbard was elected speaker and the new GOP-controlled legislature approved revisions to the state’s ethics law in a special session called by then Gov. Bob Riley, a man Hubbard has described as a political mentor and father figure.
Hubbard’s own words played a starring role for both the prosecution and the defense during the three weeks of testimony. Prosecutors projected multiple emails Hubbard sent apparently seeking help finding a job, including many to Riley, who became a lobbyist with a blue chip roster of clients after leaving office. Hubbard in the emails lamented his financial situation after losing a $130,000-a-year job.
“I need to be a salesman for (Riley’s lobbying firm). Except for those ethics laws. Who proposed those things?! What were we thinking?” Hubbard wrote to Riley in 2011.
The Republican speaker took the witness stand in his own defense. In six hours of testimony, Hubbard said he took precautions to stay within bounds of the ethics law.
“Never,” he replied when his defense lawyer asked if he had used his office for personal gain.
In a contentious cross-examination, Hubbard repeatedly referred to Riley as “my friend Bob Riley” as he tried to emphasize the defense argument that these were conversations among friends.
“Your friend, the lobbyist,” prosecutor Matt Hart countered.
Hubbard will automatically be removed from office if convicted. Each ethics charge is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.