Judge tentatively delays Mike Hubbard trial until March

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The ethics trial for indicted House Speaker Mike Hubbard was pushed back until March, which will overlap with the 2016 legislative session, a judge said Monday.

Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker granted a defense request to delay the trial that had been set for October, saying he was doing so because of the number of documents involved. However, defense lawyers also objected to the new date, saying they could not be ready until early summer.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers traded accusations during a hearing on a number of motions in the corruption case against the powerful Republican legislator from Auburn.

Defense lawyers said prosecutors were being purposely difficult by doing a “data dump” of 2.5 million unindexed files during the discovery process. They said the files included irrelevant material and played a video that showed the bare backsides of two women dancing to highlight their argument.

“The goal seems to be to make it as burdensome for us as possible,” defense lawyer Augusta Dowd told Walker. “We have to look at each file. The time consumed is enormous.”

Prosecutors said they turned over everything because that is what defense lawyers sought and accused the defense of trying to delay the trial.

“The defense is saying I’m looking at that blue sky, but it’s not blue,” lead prosecutor Matt Hart said. “The grand jury, they indicted Mr. Hubbard for being a corrupt legislator. … They deserve to have that resolved,” Hart said.

Walker tentatively scheduled the case for March but asked lawyers to look at their trial calendars before naming a specific date.

The 2016 legislative session begins in February. Defense lawyer Mark White would not say if the defense would object to the trial being held at the same time as the session where Hubbard would normally preside as speaker.

However, defense lawyers told Walker they could not be ready before early summer, a likely sign that they will seek another delay.

Hubbard faces 23 felony ethics counts accusing him of using his public offices as House speaker, and his former one as Alabama Republican Party chairman, to enrich his businesses. Hubbard and his wife, Susan, sat on the front row of the courtroom during the hearing.

Hubbard’s defense last week filed a sealed challenge to the ethics law, according to courtroom discussions. The 2010 ethics law was one of the first acts passed by the GOP legislative majority that Hubbard helped sweep into office.

Hart told Walker that the challenge should be filed openly even if Hubbard was “embarrassed” by challenging the ethics reform that he once championed. White said the filing was sealed because it included grand jury material.

White said the defense challenge accuses prosecutors of misapplying the law in Hubbard’s case. Walker instructed the defense to publically file the challenge by Friday with the grand jury material redacted.

The defense team scored a significant victory during the contentious hearing. Walker agreed to hold an evidentiary hearing in October on defense claims of prosecutor misconduct, including that prosecutors tainted the grand jury with their behavior.

White said he wanted Walker to listen to audio tapes of the grand jury.

“You can hear in the voice of Mr. Hart the venom he has for my client, Mr. Hubbard,” White said.

The defense is expected to call multiple witnesses to the stand, including legislators who testified at the grand jury.

“For us it’s a great day. It’s an absolute victory,” White said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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