Alabama High Court Narrows Ethics Convictions Against Ex-House Speaker

(CN) — Mike Hubbard, former speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, helped revise the law that was later used to convict him on ethics charges — convictions the state’s highest court partially affirmed Friday.

Hubbard, the former chair of the Alabama Republican Party, was instrumental in the GOP’s takeover of the Legislature a decade ago in a campaign where politicians promised ethics reform.

The Alabama capitol building in Montgomery.

In 2014, he faced a 23-count indictment on charges accusing the lawmaker of using his office to obtain consulting clients and investors.

A jury found him guilty of 12 of the charges and he was sentenced to four years in prison in 2016. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed one count two years later.

Of the 11 counts the Alabama Supreme Court considered, it affirmed six and dismissed five on Friday.

“Every person accused of breaking the law — even one who had a hand in creating that law — is entitled to (and bound by) the same rules of legal interpretation,” Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote in the conclusion of the 63-page opinion. “When charged with a crime, public officials must be treated no better — and no worse — than other citizens in this State where all are guaranteed equal justice under law.”

In his appeal to the state’s high court, Hubbard had argued prosecutors misinterpreted the law he helped craft.

The case was considered by seven of the nine Republican justices on the bench. Justice Jay Mitchell recused himself because he was a shareholder at a law firm involved in the case. Justice Greg Shaw did not participate because he attended the same church as Hubbard.

When the justices disagreed with the state appeals court, it was largely over an instance where Hubbard allegedly solicited investors to inject cash — $150,000 each — into a struggling printing company in which he had quarter ownership.

The state argued Hubbard received a thing of value from principals — a person or company that hired a lobbyist.

The Alabama Supreme Court decided the lower court did not analyze what the plain-meaning definition of “principal” was.

“The key to whether an individual fits within the definition of ‘principal’ is the activity of the person, not the person’s title, position, or job description,” the ruling states. “The hallmark of a ‘principal’ is one that employs, hires, or retains a lobbyist; this will necessarily be determined on a case-by-case basis.”

For instance, a member of the Business Council of Alabama’s executive committee was not a principal when he invested in Craftmaster Printers, the court ruled.

The mixed ruling drew a similarly mixed response from Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who in a statement said he was pleased that the former lawmaker will be held accountable and he “richly earned” prison time he has yet to serve.

But the test of the state’s ethics law, Marshall continued, also showed the legislature needed to buttress the statute.

“As a state, we must now ask ourselves a serious question: Do we want the type of behavior that Hubbard got away with to be illegal?  If the answer is yes, then legislative action is again sorely needed and we must commit to strengthening our ethics law,” the Republican attorney general said.

Hubbard’s attorney Sam Heldman, who argued his case before the Alabama Supreme Court last year, did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.

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