MONTGOMERY, Ala. (CN) – An attorney for a lawmaker who helped create Alabama’s ethics statutes argued Tuesday before the state’s high court that prosecutors misinterpreted the law when they charged the former state House speaker for his business dealings while in office.
Attorney Sam Heldman faced few questions before a seven-judge panel as he argued on behalf of former House Speaker Mike Hubbard, a Republican who was convicted in 2016 for 12 violations of Alabama ethics statutes. Several times while standing at the lectern in the center of the circular room, he asked the justices if they had any questions but they only questioned him a handful of times.
“Mr. Hubbard has not committed any crimes once the statutes are properly interpreted,” Heldman told the court at the start of the hearing.
The attorney said about 300,000 public servants in Alabama could be affected by whatever the justices decide regarding the state’s ethics statutes – from the high office of House speaker to police officers and school maintenance workers.
Heldman said a simplistic reading of the codes would mean an off-duty police officer who uses their gun, badge and arrest powers could be found guilty of violating the ethics statutes.
Meanwhile, the justices peppered Alabama Solicitor General Edmund LaCour Jr. as he argued the state correctly interpreted the plain meaning of the ethics statutes. The intent of the law he said, lies in the reading of the text. For instance, quid pro quo was not part of the statutes in question, LaCour said.
“I think we have a perfectly rational way to read this,” LaCour argued.
Before Hubbard’s convictions for using his office for personal gain, including to acquire consulting clients and solicit investors for a printing business, he helped the Republican Party take control of the Alabama Legislature in 2010.
According to a book he wrote, Hubbard described Alabama’s ethics codes as some of the toughest in the nation. He was a strong advocate of the ethics legislation passed in 2010.
Tuesday’s hearing was heavily attended, primarily by law clerks and interns. Extra chairs sat in the gallery aisles. Beforehand, white papers reserved seats in the pews of the balcony that ringed the court and two overflow rooms were set up. Hubbard sat in the first row of the gallery wearing a blue suit with his hands folded in his lap.
Hubbard brought several issues before the Alabama Supreme Court. Two of the justices, Jay Mitchell and Greg Shaw, recused themselves and their seats were empty during the oral arguments.
While serving as speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, Hubbard entered into two consulting contracts, one with American Pharmacy Cooperative and another with online learning platform Edgenuity. The state said the companies hired Hubbard because of his position, while he argued the circumstances make it clear his consulting was unrelated to his public service.
During his time as speaker, Hubbard also asked 10 people to invest $150,000 each – or $1.5 million total – in Craftmaster Printers, in which he was a 25% owner, in exchange for preferred stock in the company at a time when it was struggling.
The state contends that some of the people who invested in Craftmaster Printers were part of companies that had hired lobbyists. Hubbard and the state disagreed on whether the Alabama statutes would consider those individuals as principals – a business or person that employs lobbyists.
Another issue before Alabama Supreme Court is Hubbard’s contract with Capitol Cups, a company that manufactured “sippy” cups. The owner of Capitol Cups had another business called SiO2 Medical Products. While having a consulting contract with the company, Hubbard arranged for the company’s owner, Robert Abrams, to meet with Alabama’s governor and secretary of commerce.
The state said Hubbard was using his position – and the resources his office afforded – for personal gain. Prosecutors specifically argued Hubbard set up the meeting with the governor and secretary because the company was paying him a consulting contract, while Hubbard said he arranged it because the company was in his legislative district.
Hubbard also claims on appeal that he did legal checks before seeking out people to invest in his business. He claims what he did was a consequence of having a part-time Legislature, as lawmakers have to find income outside of their elected positions.
According to prosecutors, Hubbard used his influence to begin “a shakedown of business leaders across the state.” The state added Hubbard threatened to resign as speaker if companies didn’t do business with him.
Chief Justice Tom Parker asked both attorneys if SiO2 was a constituent of Hubbard’s former district. Heldman said he believed they had a manufacturing facility there.
“Mike Hubbard engaged in conduct that the Legislature intended to cover,” LaCour said of the ethics statutes as he wrapped up his argument.
It is unclear when the justices will issue a ruling in the case.