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Former Alabama House Speaker Challenges Corruption Conviction Citing Expert Testimony

The former Alabama House Speaker who was convicted of corruption charges in June has appealed his case by citing improper expert testimony.  According to the appeal, the trial court erred by allowing a state ethics expert witness to take the stand, and further erred by allowing him to provide an inaccurate picture of Alabama ethics rules.

Expert Testimony Aids in Alabama Speaker’s Conviction

Earlier this year, the former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R) was convicted of 12 ethics violations for using his political position to secure favorable contracts for companies he owned.  Prosecutors demonstrated that Hubbard’s companies had been awarded up to $2.3 million in government contracts in violation of the state’s ethics law.  The state bolstered its case with testimony from the former director of the Alabama Ethics Commission Jim Sumner, who took the stand as an ethics expert witness.

Sumner explained Alabama ethics law, which prohibits state government officials from using political office to benefit themselves or a business in which they hold interest.  Sumner also testified that Hubbard was well aware of the relevant ethics laws, but the former Speaker did not make an effort to consult the ethics board when engaging in questionable behavior.   With the aid of Sumner’s expert testimony, Hubbard was convicted and sentenced to serve four years in prison, eight years probation, and pay a fine of $210,000.

This week, Hubbard file a motion to the court appealing his conviction by arguing Sumner’s testimony should have been disallowed as an impermissible, and incorrect, opinion of Alabama ethic’s law.

Mike Hubbard Cites Error in Expert Testimony in New Trial Motion

In a 39-page motion detailing the problems with the prosecution’s interpretation of Alabama ethics law and requesting either a dismissal of all charges or a new trial, Hubbard provided an in depth argument against Sumner’s expert testimony.  According to Hubbard, Sumner’s testimony was faulty for two reasons: 1) he offered opinion testimony, which is impermissible; and 2) he was wrong in his opinion of Alabama ethics law.  Alabama’s laws of evidence allow expert witnesses to explain facts or laws in a way that jurors are able to understand, but does not allow experts to provide their opinion on how facts or laws should be interpreted.  According to Hubbard’s appeal, Sumner’s ethics expert analysis violated this rule because he told jurors what the language of Alabama ethics law meant.  Hubbard claims that Sumner provided his own interpretation of Alabama ethics law, which should have been disallowed by the trial court.

Hubbard also argued that the problem with allowing Sumner to provide his opinion of Alabama’s ethics law was compounded because the expert was incorrect in his interpretation.  Hubbard’s motion for a new trial alleges that Sumner’s expert testimony encouraged an overly broad interpretation of the state’s ethics code which encouraged criminalization of behavior which was not intended when the rules were passed.  Sumner allegedly misinterpreted Hubbard’s contracts with the state of Alabama as illegal activity, and failed to properly explain certain exceptions to the ethics code which Hubbard claims applied to his case.

Hubbard’s motion for a new trial concludes by arguing that prosecutors improperly called an ethics expert witness whose opinion of the relevant law aligned closely with their own, and the trial court erred by allowing the jury to consider Sumner’s testimony.

Alabama Criminal Court to Consider Hubbard’s Motion for a New Trial

Prosecutors have yet to respond to Hubbard’s motion for a new trial, but have asked the Court to reconsider the defendant’s sentence.  According to prosecutors, Hubbard should also have been ordered to pay $1.1 million in restitution for his corruption conduct based on previous sentences for similar actions by officials.  Prosecutors requested the additional restitution during sentencing, but were unable to provide legal precedent until a post-conviction motion.  Given Hubbard’s recent appeal, the state’s attorneys will be forced to shift focus to a motion defending their use of an expert.

Hubbard remains out of jail on bond while the Judge considers post-conviction appeals and motions, and with the importance of the upcoming ruling on his motion to dismiss charges and overturn the conviction, the case will likely take several more weeks or months to resolve.  Should Hubbard be granted a new trial, prosecutors will need to reassess how they use their ethics expert witness to avoid overstepping the boundaries placed on expert testimony.

Ethics Expert Aids in Corruption Conviction of Former Alabama Speaker of the House

The former Alabama Speaker of the House was convicted on corruption charges in part due to ethics expert witness testimony from a past director of Alabama’s Ethics Commission. Prosecutors called the ethics expert in order to explain to jurors the rules that politicians in Alabama must follow when they have personal business interests which could benefit from state funding.

Alabama Speaker of the House Convicted Corruption Charges

Mike Hubbard, the Republican former Speaker of the House for Alabama’s legislature, was convicted last week on 12 of 23 ethics violations for using his political position to earn contracts for companies which he either owned or had financial interest in.  Hubbard was found guilty of using his position as a speaker and as a leader of the Alabama Republican Party to funnel money to two of his companies: Craftmaster Printers and the Auburn Network, a broadcast company in the state.  Prosecutors argued that Hubbard attempted to obtain up to $2.3 million in government contracts or financial favors by exerting his influence over Alabama politics.

After a 12-day trial, jurors convicted Hubbard on 12 counts of ethics violations, including “voting on legislation with a conflict of interest and using his office for personal gain through a consulting contract.”  Hubbard was taken into custody and faces up to 20 years in prison for each of his convicted counts with a sentencing trial set for July 8th.  Hubbard’s ethics trial could be the tip of the iceberg as current and former governors of Alabama may also be charged with abusing their office for personal gain.

A key component of the prosecution’s case against Rep. Hubbard was testimony from an ethics expert witness who not only explained the ethical rules Alabama politicians must follow, but pointedly identified instances where the former speaker had directly violated his lawful obligations.

Alabama Ethics Expert Witness Aids in Corruption Conviction

Former director of the Alabama Ethics Commission Jim Sumner took the stand during Mike Hubbard’s corruption trial as an ethics expert witness and explained to jurors that the former Speaker of the House did not consult the commission when he engaged in questionable business dealings between the state and companies that he held a financial interest in.  According to Sumner, the ethics commission was not consulted before Hubbard supported laws which provided thousands of dollars to companies which he was linked to, with ethics officers only finding out about potential conflicts of interest after it was too late to advise on the matter.

Sumner also testified as an ethics expert witness by explaining to jurors that public officials in Alabama cannot act in their official capacity on issues which could benefit themselves or businesses in which they hold an interest.  Sumner told the court that the Alabama Ethics Commission is available to public officials should they have questions, but no public official, including the Speaker of the House, is allowed to vote on or support legislation which would benefit his or her business interests.  According to the Alabama ethics expert, the law prohibiting conflict of business and political interests is purposefully broad in order to discourage even the hint of corruption in state politics.

Sumner concluded his testimony by telling jurors that he had a working relationship with Hubbard which suggested the defendant was keenly aware of the applicable ethics laws.

Prosecutors Connect Former Alabama House Speaker to Illegal Corruption

After calling the ethics expert witness, Alabama prosecutors offered substantial evidence that former Speaker Mike Hubbard tied his business and political interests together in violation of ethics law.  Former business associates and executives for companies which Hubbard held a personal stake in testified that the Speaker’s position made him an attractive consultant and that companies he worked with received hundreds of thousands of dollars in the form of state government contracts.

Hubbard has maintained that he was conducting lawful business with friends and associates, and that he did not consult with the ethics committee because he was not engaged in corrupt or illegal behavior.  Hubbard’s defense team pointed out that he frequently consulted with ethics expert Jim Sumner on other matters, and did not demonstrate a pattern of corruption which warranted conviction.  Jurors disagreed, and in one month one of the most powerful Republicans in Alabama will receive a potentially lengthy jail sentence for ethics violations.