3 years ago

Welcome to Alabama: Where alleged criminals are prosecuted by alleged criminals (opinion)

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (Left) and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (Left) and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange

For over fourteen months now, the state government of Alabama has been under a dark cloud of suspicion and accusations stemming from the indictment of House Speaker Mike Hubbard on 23 counts of felony public corruption.

The Attorney General’s office says Mike Hubbard — once the Alabama Republican Party’s fastest rising star — could not choose between power and money, so he chose to use the former to attain the latter.

Unflattering emails released by the prosecution revealed that Hubbard, a broadcast media executive by trade, was being paid upwards of $30,000 a month by various companies in other industries — at least some of which had issues before the Legislature — to be a consultant. He is also accused of having voted in favor of a measure that could have benefited one of his clients to the tune of millions of dollars, among other things.

After being indicted, Hubbard unleashed an all-out assault on the credibility of the Alabama attorney general’s office.

According to court documents, Attorney General Luther Strange recused himself from Hubbard’s case when the investigation began in January of 2013. He appointed longtime attorney Van Davis to serve as acting attorney general, and Matt Hart, chief of the AG’s special prosecutions unit, took the reins as the lead prosecutor.

Hart came into the job with a reputation for being a bulldog, a trait that could serve him well as he took on public corruption. But according to Hubbard’s defense team, and even some inside the AG’s office, Hart had also become known as a man who was willing to operate in the grey, a dangerous trait for someone whose job is to uphold the law — to seek truth wherever it takes him.

Former deputy state attorney general Henry “Sonny” Reagan wrote to Attorney General Strange warning him about Hart’s tactics, and even filed an internal complaint against him for “harassment, threats of physical violence, and prosecutorial misconduct.” Hart dismissed the accusations and shot back that Reagan was interfering with his investigation. Reagan ultimately resigned after 16 years on the job, but not before making accusations that support what the Hubbard defense team has been saying all along: the prosecution is inappropriately leaking information.

“I know that two high level officials in your Investigations Division believe that Mr. Hart has leaked Grand Jury information to the press and have notified you of the same,” Reagan wrote to Strange.

Throughout the Grand Jury process and even since the Hubbard indictment, sealed information has seemed to routinely pop up on pro-prosecution blogs and editorial pages.

HISTORY OF LEAKS

Six months before Hubbard was indicted, Hart went after State Representative Barry Moore (R-Enterprise).

While testifying before the Hubbard Grand Jury, Moore was asked to recall the details of a conversation he had with his soon-to-be primary opponent Josh Pipkin approximately seven months before. Unbeknownst to Moore, Pipkin had recorded the conversation, and prosecutors argued he was not sufficiently accurate in his recollection of the call during his testimony.

The indictment, which was attained using out-of-context clips of phone conversations and proved to be a stretch after Moore was found not guilty on all charges, raised eyebrows in the legal community. But throughout the entire trial, apparent leaks appeared on a pro-prosecution blog that seemed engineered to hurt Moore politically in his re-election bid.

In spite of Grand Jury secrecy laws, an article in the Enterprise Ledger noted that Moore’s opponent, Josh Pipkin, claimed “he received permission from the attorney general’s office to publicly address the issue (Grand Jury proceedings) at the Coffee County Republican Club.”

In a later Facebook post by Pipkin’s wife that was reposted by Pipkin’s campaign Facebook page, she said her husband “would love to comment now but he can’t because of Grand Jury Secrecy Laws.” But in the very next sentence she appeared to inadvertently reveal that secrecy laws were broken by saying “the AG played the conversation for you,” referencing something that could only be known by people inside the Grand Jury.

The Pipkin campaign later removed the posts, but the entire ordeal was so over-the-top a juror is said to have quipped during deliberations, “If Pipkin and (his sidekick) Tullos are going home to their families tonight after what they did, then Barry Moore should definitely be going home to his family.”

Moore, of course, was acquitted, but the leaks seemed to continue.

CAUGHT IN THE ACT

A few weeks ago Hart finally got caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar.

Speaker Hubbard’s lead defense firm, White Arnold and Dowd, submitted a motion to the judge to withdraw from the case. The firm has declined to disclose its reasoning, but while the withdrawal filing was made public, their actual motion was kept under seal by the judge because it referenced Grand Jury proceedings.

However, the moment the filing hit Hart’s email inbox, he forwarded it to a pro-prosecution blog, which published the sealed document.

“It did not appear to be sealed when I first viewed it quickly in the car on my iPad,” Hart explained to Alabama sports website and liberal political blog al.com. “Because we have agreed to send various media entities motions when they are filed, and because I’d received specific requests to do so in the last couple of days, I forwarded this motion to a journalist.

“As I was preparing to send it to the second person on our list, I noticed that the motion was marked ‘under seal.'”

Even if Hart’s tortured explanation is accurate in this particular instance, it is hard to ignore that his first inclination upon receiving any information about the case was to send it along to the very blog with whom the Hubbard defense team has accused the prosecution of repeatedly working in concert.

THE PLOT THICKENS

Baron Coleman, a Montgomery attorney who also works as a political consultant and hosts a local radio program, said in a sworn affidavit this week that he “used information from Matt Hart to create a ‘whisper campaign'” against Hubbard.

“At one point, Matt Hart told me in January 2014 it was a good thing for him and his office that I was in the political world ‘wheeling and dealing’ and doing political things,” Coleman writes in the affidavit.

Among those “political things” Coleman was engaged in was consulting for the campaign of Sandy Toomer, who was running against Hubbard in his Auburn-area legislative district.

Additionally, he was also a consultant for Josh Pipkin, who was running against Rep. Barry Moore.

And suddenly things really begin to come into focus.

Coleman’s breathtaking affidavit — written by a man who has been anything but an ally of House Speaker Mike Hubbard in recent years — depicts Matt Hart as a man who does not hesitate to use leaks and intimidation tactics to his advantage whenever he sees fit; in other words, exactly the man Hubbard’s legal defense team has been describing for over a year now.

But according to Coleman’s affidavit, Hart also tried to use those tactics on him.

Through a sequence of events, Hart became concerned that Coleman had inadvertently exposed him as the leak in the Grand Jury proceedings.

“When Mr. Hart became aware of this information, he called and advised me to never let that happen again,” said Coleman. “Mr. Hart threatened to put me in front of the Grand Jury, which he claimed would be ‘somewhat painful’ for him and ‘painful’ for me. Near the end of this conversation, Hart awkwardly interrogated me for several minutes about whether I had ever recorded him in any manner, including during phone conversations or face-to-face conversations… I concluded he feared I had recorded him and the recordings would be subpoenaed to show Grand Jury leaks.

“Based on comments made to me by Mr. Hart, I am concerned about Mr. Hart and the power he possesses,” Coleman concluded. “I believe his threats of a painful Grand Jury experience were designed to keep the line of communication open between us, knowing that I would use the information he provided me but would be fearful to ever reveal its source.”

CLIMATE OF FEAR

The Grand Jury process is secret for good reason. If the proceedings were public, it could discourage witnesses from coming forward or keep them from being entirely forthcoming. Additionally, if the Grand Jury declines to issue charges, the individual in question should not have their name drug through the mud publicly. When a judge says something should be sealed prior to, during, or after a trial, he or she undoubtedly has good reason for that as well, and leaking such information is an inexcusable abuse of the justice system.

Did House Speaker Mike Hubbard abuse his office?

Who knows?

But I’ll tell you what is frankly a lot more terrifying than anything Hubbard is accused of: Realizing that your state government’s attorneys are apparently willing to do whatever it takes to “get you,” if they decide they want you, for whatever reason.

Criminals should live in fear of the long arm of the law and the impartiality of the American justice system.

But in Alabama, the AG’s office has turned into a quasi-Secret Police force able to wield the ultimate power of the government to do as it pleases.

How is it that Alabama’s elected attorney general is able to unleash unelected state employees to prosecute cases that could be politically advantageous to him? And when chaos ensues he, what, throws his hands up and says “but I recused myself”?

This is not what justice looks like, at least not in America, and certainly not in Alabama.


12 hours ago

University of North Alabama adopting new tuition plan

The University of North Alabama is switching to a tuition plan that officials say will result in increased costs for some students but not others.

Officials at the school in Florence say they are reducing the total number of student fees from seven to one, and fees will be included in the overall tuition cost.

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A statement says students taking 15 hours will see a maximum increase in expenses of 4.1%.

But some could pay less, and costs will not change for others.

School officials say a lag in state funding is a continuing problem.

North Alabama’s vice president for business, Evan Thornton, says the school has deferred maintenance and capital needs totaling more than $160 million.

The school has an undergraduate enrollment of about 6,200 students.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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12 hours ago

Nathan Lindsay joining governor’s office from BCA

Another high profile staffer from the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) is joining Governor Kay Ivey’s senior level team.

The governor on Monday announced that Nathan Lindsay will join her office as director of appointments effective July 1.

This position is charged with spearheading the meticulous work that goes into Ivey meeting her duty to appoint qualified, representative and appropriate people to positions on the state’s various boards and commissions.

A press release from the governor’s office outlined that Lindsay assumes the role with an extensive background in state government and the private sector, which uniquely qualifies him to advise the governor in this capacity.

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Most recently, through his work in political and governmental affairs at the BCA, Lindsay interacted with members of the business community throughout the Yellowhammer State, which significantly adds to his ability to identify and select candidates for various appointed posts.

Additionally, Lindsay’s early career included time in then-Governor Bob Riley’s office where he served as aide to the governor from 2006 to 2011. Lindsay also worked in the governor’s communications office as deputy press secretary and advised Riley on education policy.

“Nathan brings to our team a wealth of knowledge that I know will serve the state well,” Ivey said in a statement. “In addition to his expertise and insight, Nathan is a man of character. The men and women of my staff must have a strong work ethic, a depth of knowledge and a heart for public service. Nathan certainly embodies all of these characteristics.”

Lindsay earned his bachelor’s degree from Faulkner University. During his time at Faulkner, he served as SGA president and later, in 2018, he was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award for the College of Arts and Sciences.

“As governor, I have the important responsibility of appointing qualified individuals to serve on the more than 450 boards and commissions in our state. These men and women must not only be highly-qualified, but they should also be a true reflection of our great state,” Ivey added. “I am confident we will continue to find the best people to serve our state, just as I am certain Nathan will serve my Administration exceptionally well in this position. His experience speaks for itself, and he shares my goal of moving Alabama into a better future.”

This comes weeks after Leah Garner departed BCA to become Ivey’s communications director.

Mark Colson also left BCA to become head of the Alabama Trucking Association recently.

Update 5:55 p.m.:

BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt released a statement commending Ivey on the hire of Lindsay.

“Nathan’s background and expertise in political affairs combined with his political acumen uniquely qualify him to serve the governor and the state in this capacity,” Britt said. “I have no doubt Nathan will do an outstanding job, and I commend Governor Kay Ivey on this excellent addition to her staff.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

13 hours ago

Alabama listed as one of the top 20 most patriotic states in America

A WalletHub report released Monday revealed Alabama to be on of the top 20 most patriotic states in America.

Ranked 19 overall on the list, with a score of 47.43, Alabama ranked first for the “Civics Education Requirement.”

The report “compared the 50 states across 13 key indicators of patriotism” and “ranges from share of enlisted military population to share of adults who voted in the 2016 presidential election to AmeriCorps volunteers per capita.”

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With one as “Most Patriotic” and 25 as “Average,” Alabama received the following rankings:

  • 5th – Average Number of Military Enlistees per 1,000 Civilian Adults
  • 30th – Active-Duty Military Personnel per 100,000 Civilian Adults
  • 17th – Veterans per 1,000 Civilian Adults
  • 1st – Civics Education Requirement
  • 12th – Share of Civilian Adult Population in Military Reserves
  • 10th – Share of Adults Who Voted in 2016 Primary Elections

Alabama also ranked eight overall for ‘Military Engagement.’

The report, which compared red states to blue states in terms of patriotism, found that red states were more patriotic. Red states received an average rank of 23.67, while blue states received an average rank of 28.25.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

13 hours ago

Brooks: ‘Really dumb’ for Democrats to elect candidates mainly on ‘skin pigmentation or their chromosomes’

In an interview on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show”on Friday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) lamented that many Democrats have become more interested in racial and gender identity politics than the welfare of America.

Coming off of her much maligned comments comparing American immigration facilities to “concentration camps,” host Dale Jackson asked the north Alabama congressman if he believes that Democrats in Congress will allow Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to continue to serve as their “de facto face and leader.”

“Yes,” Brooks answered succinctly, promoting a follow-up request for his reasoning.

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“Well, she is where she is,” Brooks explained. “She’s got a lot of political power. She’s got a lot of support — surprisingly.”

“There are large, large numbers of American citizens who have bit off on this socialist stuff, who have bit off on this victimization stuff, who have bit off on thinking that the most important criteria in determining whether to elect someone is their skin pigmentation or their chromosomes — which is really dumb, OK,” he continued. “We oughta be electing people based on their character and based on their public policy positions.”

“But, notwithstanding that, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become the face of the Democratic Party in many different respects, and she does have great influence as evidenced by the presidential candidates on the socialist Democrats’ side who are trying to cultivate her support,” Brooks added. “They want her endorsement.”

Listen, starting at the 8:25 mark:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

Democrats hope it’s 2017 all over again, Republicans just want the nightmare to end

In 2017, Roy Moore won a Republican primary run-off against an extremely flawed Luther Strange. Strange wasn’t just a regular candidate — he had the cloud of his appointment, and he was dogged by former Gov. Robert Bentley’s investigation, impeachment and resignation.

Alabama Republicans, outside of U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), were reluctant to criticize Roy Moore because they knew doing so would hand the Senate seat to now-Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

But this is different.

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State Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) told the Montgomery Advertiser that he blamed the GOP establishment in 2017, but still thinks Moore can’t win in 2020.

He stated, “I do not believe, with the numbers I look at, that Roy Moore at the end of the day can get the nomination.”

State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) dismissed Moore when asked about the candidates, saying, “If you look at the candidates, you got Roy Moore. I don’t think we need to say more there.”

Later, he all but endorsed U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) by saying Byrne “would do the best job.”

Secretary of State John Merrill, a potential future Moore opponent, believes Moore has an uphill battle against Jones.

“I think it would be extraordinarily difficult for Judge Moore to be successful in a general election campaign against Senator Jones,” Merrill outlined.

He added, “I also think it would be difficult for Judge Moore to secure the Republican nomination.”

Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), who endorsed Moore in 2017, has already endorsed State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) and is on record saying former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions would be a favorite.

“I do believe that Jeff Sessions would clearly be number one in the poll rankings, based on his having been such a great senator on three principle issues: free enterprise versus socialism; deficit and debt; and border security,” he explained.

Say what you will, but you do not usually see these kinds of pronouncements from Republicans in the middle of a primary.

Democrats hope 2017 is going to be repeated in 2020, but there are many different factors that will matter.

Roy Moore is already fatally flawed as 300,000+ Republicans voters abandoned him in 2017 and stayed home. Many of those voters will vote in the primary in 2020, but will not vote for him.

U.S. Representative Mike Rogers (R-Saks) expressed a similar sentiment on CSPAN last week.

“I personally don’t think Roy Moore is going to be our nominee, but whoever our nominee is will prevail in November because you’ll have the full complement of Republican voters turning out turning out to vote,” he said.

This is not 2017.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.