A Lee County jury has found former Auburn Republican and Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard guilty of 12 felony charges of violating the state's ethics law — the very same ethics law he was instrumental in passing.
After a little more than seven hours of deliberations, the jury reached a historic verdict in a four-year investigation into Hubbard's use of his offices as both House speaker and chairman of the Alabama Republican Party.
After Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker read the jury's convictions, Hubbard's bond was set at $160,000. He later made bond and was released from the Lee County Justice Center's jail. He snuck around journalists through a back entrance into a black Chevrolet Corvette parked in the grass.
After he entered the Corvette, Hubbard sped off through a field instead of using the parking lot, attempting to avoid journalists seeking comment.
The powerful Republican boss, who orchestrated a takeover of the Alabama Legislature in 2010, was taken into custody quickly after his conviction and was told to surrender his passport. His sentencing hearing is set for July 8 at 10 a.m. — at which time he will most likely be sentenced to between 2–20 years in prison for each count.
The sentence could be served concurrently, and 24 years may not reflect actual time served.
Hubbard, his wife and defense attorneys Lance Bell and Bill Baxley, a former Democratic Alabama attorney general and lieutenant governor, refused to comment about the verdict released in the case. Another of Hubbard's defense attorneys, David McKnight, spoke to the press after the verdict was released.
"We're very disappointed," McKnight said. "The next step is to get Mike home with [his wife] Susan. We will appeal. We think we will ultimately prevail. Obviously [his family is] all very disappointed, as we are. ... I feel like I let my client down."
McKnight said efforts to appeal the convictions would begin as soon as Hubbard is sentenced in July.
For each guilty verdict, Hubbard could face between 2–20 years in a state penitentiary and up to a $30,000 fine. In addition, Hubbard was also removed immediately from both his position as speaker and representative for Auburn's district.
"This incident, no matter how regrettable, offers strong proof that the ethics reforms passed by the Legislature in 2010 remain among the toughest in the nation," said now-acting House Speaker Victor Gaston, R-Mobile. "I know that every House member, regardless of party, will keep Mike Hubbard and his family in our prayers as he begins this next, most difficult chapter in his life."
Gaston will serve as the state's new speaker for the "foreseeable future," according to his office, until a new speaker is elected during the next legislative session.
A special election for Hubbard's House seat must now be called by Gov. Robert Bentley, who is also under investigation by the state's ethics commission and other state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart, who was under fire for months by the defense with accusations of selective prosecution and prosecutorial misconduct, said he felt vindicated by the verdict and was proud of his team.
Acting Attorney General W. Van Davis also said he felt vindicated. When asked by the press, he said he could not comment on whether the state would pursue investigations against others involved in Hubbard's case.
Counts 5 and 6 relate to Hubbard's contract with the trade organization the American Pharmacy Cooperative. Counts 10–14 relate to Hubbard's contract with CV Holdings and the company's CEO Bobby Abrams and his lobbying efforts for those companies.
Counts 16–19 find Hubbard guilty of illegally soliciting investments from several Alabama power brokers including Jimmy Rane, the state's richest man and CEO of Great Southern Wood.
Count 23 finds Hubbard guilty of illegally soliciting and accepting financial advice from Will Brooke, an executive with the Business Council of Alabama.
Hubbard was first elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1998.
In total — between investments Hubbard was accused of illegally soliciting for his printing company Craftmasters, the consulting contracts, and business he solicited using his public offices — prosecutors say Hubbard illegally made more than $2 million using the two political offices.
In 2012, an audit began into the Auburn Republican's handling of party funds during his time as chairman of the Alabama GOP from 2007–2011. The investigation was commissioned by Hubbard's successor, but eventually the state became involved under the auspices and supervision of Attorney General Luther Strange's special prosecutions division.
In 2014, a Lee County Grand Jury under the direction of Hart indicted the speaker on 23 felony counts of violating the state's ethics laws. The grand jury accused Hubbard of using his public offices as party chair and House Speaker for personal gain.
Since then, Hubbard maintained his innocence throughout the trial, and he and his lawyers have criticized both the investigation and the charges as political fishing expeditions. The speaker, in a press conference after his indictment, accused Strange and the attorney general's office of attacking him for political purposes.