OPELIKA, Ala. — Ex-Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, now a convicted felon, wanted to have a sheriff investigate possible juror misconduct at his ethics trial but a judge on Friday said no.
However, Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker said he’s open to taking testimony from a juror who says others made biased remarks against Hubbard. The former speaker is seeking a new trial after being convicted in June on 12 felony ethics charges that he used his position as speaker to benefit his companies and clients.
Hubbard’s lawyers argued that prosecutors stretched the meaning of Alabama’s ethics law to obtain a conviction, allowed improper expert testimony and that some jurors displayed bias against Hubbard such as calling him “plain greedy”.
“There is no way Mike Hubbard could have gotten a fair trial,” defense lawyer Lance Bell told Walker during a Thursday hearing.
One juror claimed another juror called Hubbard “plain greedy,” according to an affidavit submitted by Hubbard’s defense. And one said “yeah right” after describing how they assured a defense lawyer during jury selection that they could base their verdict on the evidence alone, according to the affidavit.
Court Administrator Trisha Campbell testified Friday that a juror complained early in the trial that another juror was saying, “things like uh-huh, yes, now the truth is coming out” during the trial. She says the juror was asked to be quiet.
Assistant Attorney General Katie Langer contended those muttered remarks, if they happened, fell far short of the type of behavior that would merit a new trial. She said there was no evidence that outside factors influenced the jury’s decision to convict Hubbard.
Walker at times seemed skeptical of the request. He asked defense lawyers if they have evidence of the verdict being affected by “something that never came up” during the trial.
Walker said there was no legal precedent for ordering an investigation by the sheriff. The judge has not yet ruled on the motion for a new trial or said definitively if there will be another hearing.
The judge and lawyers discussed how accusations of juror misconduct were handled in the 2006 trial of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. In a twist of courtroom irony, Langer had served as a juror in the Siegelman case before she went to law school.
Hubbard, 54, and his wife attended the Friday hearing in his first courtroom appearance since Walker sentenced him to four years in prison. He remains free while he appeals his conviction.
Hubbard, one of the state’s most influential Republicans, was convicted June 10 on 12 counts of violating the state ethics law, including improperly soliciting lobbyists and company executives for work and $150,000 in his investments in his debt-riddled printing business and using the power of his office to help his business clients. Upon being convicted he was automatically removed from political office.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers sparred over other aspects of the trial, including the appropriateness of expert testimony from former Ethics Commission Director Jim Sumner. Defense lawyer Bill Baxley said they were “blindsided” by the testimony and said Sumner gave his personal interpretation of the law, including a narrow interpretation of the ethics law’s friendship exemption.
“He got to say who was and was not a friend,” Baxley said. Assistant Attorney General Megan Kirkpatrick responded that expert witnesses, “can testify what the ethics law means.”
Walker put tough questions to both sides during the hearing. He questioned prosecutors about Hubbard’s conviction related to Great Southern Wood President Jimmy Rane’s investment of $150,000 in his printing company, Craftmaster.
“Where’s the connection between Great Southern Wood and Craftmaster?” Walker asked
Defense lawyers had argued that Rane received a fair return on the investment and that he and Hubbard had been friends for decades.
Kirkpatrick told Walker there didn’t need to be a quid-pro-quo for the transaction to be prohibited under state ethics law. She argued that a $150,000 investment is not the same as a Christmas gift between friends.