Former AL Ethics Commission director testifies on contentious fi - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

Former AL Ethics Commission director testifies on contentious fifth day of Hubbard trial

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James L. Sumner Jr. answers questions from prosecutor Matt Hart during the Alabama speaker Mike Hubbard trial on Tuesday, May 31, 2016 in Opelika, Ala.    Todd J. Van Emst/Opelika-Auburn News/Pool James L. Sumner Jr. answers questions from prosecutor Matt Hart during the Alabama speaker Mike Hubbard trial on Tuesday, May 31, 2016 in Opelika, Ala. Todd J. Van Emst/Opelika-Auburn News/Pool
OPELIKA, AL (WSFA) -

Tuesday, the fifth day of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard's ethics trial, was a contentious one. The prosecution and defense got into a heated argument before the key witness of the day - former Alabama Ethics Commission Director James Sumner - even took the stand.

The State is working a devised plan to paint Hubbard as a proponent of stringent ethics laws, as well as a someone who is willing to cross the line. 

Hubbard is charged with 23 felony ethics violations.

JOHN SANDERSON

John Sanderson, the former chief financial officer for Sterne Agee, was the first witness on the stand Tuesday morning. According to his testimony, Sanderson wrote a check from the Sterne Agee Group to Craftmaster Printers for $150,000. He says he wrote the check at the request of James Holbrook as an investment. Sterne Agee then received quarterly payments from that investment.

Hubbard is accused of violating ethics laws by using his position to solicit investments for Craftmaster Printers, a company for which he was a partial owner. 

JAMES SUMNER

The prosecution’s key witness was the second person of the day to take the stand, and his testimony lasted for four hours. 

James Sumner, the former director of the Alabama Ethics Commission didn't even take the stand before fireworks went off. Initially, the jury was sent out for a heated debate over whether Sumner could even be called as an expert witness on Alabama ethics laws. The State won the fight.

It was a contentious morning. At one point Judge Jacob Walker asked everyone to take a deep breath.

The State posed hypothetical questions that mirrored the charges against Hubbard. Sumner candidly answered yes for many of the questions. 

Hubbard's defense essentially objected to every question. At one point defense attorney Bill Baxley jumped up and said, “We object to everything” prosecutor Matt Hart asks. The statement even got the jury to laugh.

Sumner’s testimony will likely prove to be key. He was specifically questioned about the laws Hubbard is accused of violating and what exactly the laws cover. Sumner seemed to favor broad interpretations of the ethics laws, and said Hubbard sought more advice from the ethics commission than any other elected official.

Sumner said his advice about Hubbard being forbidden to use his position or the “mantle of his office” for any personal benefit became familiar and was known as “the drill.” He described the mantle of your office as an intangible that includes the aura, respect and power of your position. 

Sumner also testified that Hubbard specifically sought approval from the ethics commission for his consulting contract with the Southeast Alabama Gas District (SEAGD), but he didn’t seek guidance on his contracts with Edgenuity, Capital Cups and the American Pharmacy Cooperative (APCI). The ethics commission also didn’t know about the $150,000 investments, Sumner testified. 

Sumner said he didn’t know about APCI until Gov. Robert Bentley's legislative liaison contacted him after Hubbard voted on the bill. Sumner said once he heard about it, he called Hubbard and asked about the rumors. According to Sumner, Hubbard responded to his questions by asking “Is this coming from my enemies?” Sumner told him no.

During cross examination, the defense questioned Sumner on why the ethics commission didn’t refer Hubbard’s case to the district attorney’s office or attorney general’s office.

“More than half of the things that are before this court were never known to the ethics commission,” Sumner responded.

MICHAEL HUMPHREY

The remaining testimony on Tuesday revolved around Hubbard’s relationship with the company Edgenuity, which provides online courses to schools.

Mike Humphrey, the company's executive vice president, testified about a contract between his company and Hubbard for consulting services. Hubbard was being paid $7,500 a month as a company consultant. He’s accused of using his position as a legislator to solicit money from Edgenuity for the Auburn Network.

Humphrey said his idea was that, as a consultant, Hubbard could help him get access to legislators in other states more quickly. Humphrey said Hubbard sent him a consulting contract that had already been “blessed” by the Alabama Ethics Commission. The contract appeared to be a generic contract that wasn’t specific to Edgenuity.

Sumner testified earlier that the ethics commission didn’t know Hubbard entered into a contract with Edgenuity. Humphreys testified that part of the reason his company hired Hubbard was because he was in the legislature. 

However, during cross examination, Humphrey said Hubbard never suggested he should be hired as a consultant because of his political position or that his position would help in that role. 

WEDNESDAY'S TESTIMONY

Testimony will continue Wednesday morning at the Lee County Justice Center. Gov. Robert Bentley is on the list of witnesses set to testify. 

Copyright 2016 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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