Judge won’t dismiss House Speaker case

Published 10:25 pm Tuesday, March 29, 2016

MONTGOMERY (AP) — A judge on Tuesday refused to dismiss ethics charges against House Speaker Mike Hubbard and said Hubbard should be ready to go to trial in mid-May.

Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker rejected defense claims of prosecutorial misconduct in the case against the high-ranking Republican. The judge wrote that none of the accusations warranted dismissing the case.

The defense made multiple accusations against prosecutor Matt Hart, including that he called radio talk show hosts after Hubbard’s indictment and displayed vindictiveness in the office and in front of grand jurors about Hubbard.

Walker wrote that there was no evidence of leaks and said that nothing appeared to influence the grand jury’s decision to indict Hubbard.

The defense most recently had accused Hart of wrongly sharing information during frequent conversations with political operative Baron Coleman who worked for Hubbard’s 2014 primary opponent. Walker wrote that, after reviewing a 40-minute phone call Coleman recorded with Hart, it appeared Hart was investigating possible leaks, rather than “leaking” material to Coleman.

The judge noted in the audio that Coleman tells Hart he doesn’t know anything “because you are the one I talk to and you don’t tell me (expletive).”

Walker’s decision perhaps ended the Republican speaker’s hopes of getting the criminal case dismissed before trial.

A grand jury in 2014 indicted Hubbard on 23 felony ethics charges accusing him of using his position as speaker, and previous post as chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, to steer business to his companies, lobby the governor’s office and to solicit investments and clients for his businesses. Hubbard has maintained his innocence and argued that the transactions were legal and separate from his public duties.

Walker set the case for the May 9 jury term and said that could result in the trial starting the week of May 16.

The new date should prevent the trial from overlapping with the ongoing legislative session where Hubbard as speaker presides over the House of Representatives. The session must end by May 16.

Although the ruling was a victory for the prosecution, the accusations will likely be raised again at trial.

Walker noted that there are “numerous disputed facts regarding these issues that would best be decided by a jury of the defendants’ peers.”

The judge refused a defense request to question Hart under oath but said nothing in the order should be read to preclude his being a possible witness at trial. The judge scheduled a pretrial hearing in the case for April 15.