Crime

Testimony: Alabama House speaker hired to open doors with others

TODD J. VAN EMST/OPELIKA-AUBURN NEWSMike Hubbard and Susan Hubbard walk to the Lee County Justice Center to start the second week of the ethics trial of Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard on Tuesda in Opelika, Ala.
TODD J. VAN EMST/OPELIKA-AUBURN NEWSMike Hubbard and Susan Hubbard walk to the Lee County Justice Center to start the second week of the ethics trial of Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard on Tuesda in Opelika, Ala. AP

OPELIKA, Ala. -- The president of an education curriculum company testified Tuesday he hired Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, in a $7,500-a-month consulting contract, to open doors with legislative leaders in other states as the company tried to sell digital courses to school systems.

Edgenuity President Michael Humphrey said he believed Hubbard -- with his legislative and sports background -- could get him meetings with legislative leaders that Humphrey said it would take him a year to get on his own.

"My idea was to use Mike to say, 'Get me a meeting with this guy, let me go meet him,"' Humphrey said. Humphrey said Hubbard's contract specified he worked only on matters outside Alabama for the company.

Humphrey said Hubbard's work for the company included calling the then-speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives and emailing Auburn University Athletics Director Jay Jacobs asking for contacts for the company as it tried to get cleared by the NCAA to sell its products for college athletes.

Hubbard faces 23 felony ethics charges accusing him of using his political positions to make money and solicit work, investments and clients from people with business before the Alabama Legislature. Prosecutors say Hubbard improperly used the "mantle of his office" to benefit his businesses and clients.

Hubbard has maintained that the transactions were legal and permitted under the exceptions that the state ethics law provides for normal business dealings and longstanding friendships.

During the questioning of the retired director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, prosecutors and defense lawyers took turns alternately depicting Hubbard as someone who cautiously sought advice about what was allowed under state ethics laws or someone who willfully ignored the advice he was given.

Jim Sumner said Hubbard often sought informal ethics advice from him or general counsel Hugh Evans and they repeatedly cautioned him about the restrictions of the law. They gave him an informal letter about his work for a municipal-owned gas utility saying the work would be legal as long as he didn't use the "mantle of his office" to benefit his clients and businesses.

"We always got to the point: I would say, or Hugh would say, 'You remember the drill. You can't use your position to benefit yourself, your business or your family,'" Sumner said.

Sumner served as an expert witness, providing testimony on both the informal advice given to Hubbard and providing general interpretations about what the law allows and doesn't allow.

What exactly constitutes using the "mantle" of a public office could be a pivotal point in some of the charges in the public corruption trial. Sumner, under questioning from prosecutors, said it was an intangible that included using the aura of a public office to benefit private business clients.

Prosecutors introduced an email from Hubbard in which he described that as boilerplate ethics language and that he was free to introduce himself as speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives.

Under cross-examination by defense lawyer Bill Baxley, Sumner acknowledged Hubbard sought more advice about his business dealings than any other legislator.

"He said, 'I want to know where the line is'?" Baxley said.

"Correct," Sumner replied.

Hubbard's defense made a point of saying he sought ethical guidance and followed the law. But informal opinions don't provide the protection Hubbard might have received from formal opinions of the Ethics Commission.

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