Prosecutor: Speaker put ‘for sale’ sign on office

Published 11:25 pm Thursday, June 9, 2016

By Kim ChandlerThe Associated Press

OPELIKA (AP) — Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard put a “for sale” sign on his public office as he obtained consulting contracts paying his business thousands of dollars each month and then used his influence to help those companies, a state prosecutor told jurors Thursday.

“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 in closing arguments at Hubbard’s ethics trial. “He has diminished the integrity of our government … because he wanted to make some money.”

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But defense attorney Lance Bell lampooned what he called a complete lack of evidence in the case. Bell told jurors said it “scares him” that government prosecutors could go after a citizen like they did Hubbard.

“Look at your notes and figure out, did at any point in time, did Mike Hubbard intentionally violate the law,” Bell said, adding that the answer was no.

Lawyers will make their final remarks to jurors Friday morning before the panel begins deliberating the fate of the Deep South Republican, one of Alabama’s most influential figures.

Hubbard faces 23 felony ethics charges accusing him of using his offices as speaker and as former Alabama GOP chairman to obtain $2.3 million in party campaign work, investments and employment for his companies.

Hubbard has maintained his innocence, saying he took precautions to obey state law. His defense argued that some of the transactions fell within exemptions for longstanding friendships and normal business dealings.

Duffy argued that it was Hubbard’s decision as party chairman to steer business to a printing company he owned and to use his position as speaker to obtain consulting contracts.

Hubbard didn’t do much work in the consulting contracts he obtained, Duffy argued, but it allowed him to “maintain his salary and his lifestyle” after he was laid off from his $130,000-a-year position with a sports media company.

Duffy also argued 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.

During part of his closing argument, Bell moved to the witness seat as he addressed jurors as he lampooned the prosecution’s case.

“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.” The investors testified earlier in the trial that they gave the money out of friendship and because they thought it would be a good investment.

Bell said most prosecution witnesses were good for the defense.

The one exception he said was an expert witness who gave jurors a strict interpretation of the ethics law. Bell disparaged the former ethics commission director and ex-government employee as being in the “pocket” of government prosecutors.

The prosecution argued that Hubbard used the prestige and power of his office to benefit his consulting clients who hired him because people would view him as the speaker of the House. Bell said it’s not Hubbard’s fault if people see him as speaker even though he’s acting as a private citizen.

Hubbard on Thursday concluded a contentious cross-examination in which prosecutors sought to undercut defense claims that his consulting contracts had nothing to do with his powerful position.

His defense took a minor stumble when Hubbard described a former grocery store lobbyist, whom Hubbard had sent an email asking for help arranging a meeting for a client, as a friend who had recently died.

Prosecutor Matt Hart informed Hubbard the man was still alive and Hubbard acknowledged he might have mixed him up with someone else.

Prosecutors throughout the trial showed jurors a chart of the $2.3 million that went to Hubbard’s companies from the investments, consulting contracts and party work.

Hubbard testified that the money went to his companies and he only took enough to replace the salary he lost when he was laid off from the $130,000 job at a sports company.

“All of that money did not go to me,” Hubbard said.