OPELIKA, AL (WSFA) - Several key witnesses testified Wednesday for the prosecution in Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard's ethics trial, including the most high-profile so far – Gov. Robert Bentley.
Hubbard faces 23 ethics charges, accusing him of using his political positions to make $2.3 million in work and investments. Hubbard has maintained his innocence. He faces removal from office if convicted on any of the counts.
Several defense themes developed during the day's questioning. Defense attorney Bill Baxley emphasized several times that Alabama's legislature is made up of citizens and is meant to be a part-time job. That means lawmakers must have another job. Baxley also tried to show that Hubbard's actions that are in question were done for the good of the state and its people.
Hubbard's financial trouble was the topic of testimony for much of the day. Several witnesses testified about Hubbard's financial woes connected to his layoff at IMG and his cash-strapped business, Craftmaster Printers.
Wednesday's testimony also revealed Hubbard discussed the possibility of stepping away from his position as speaker because of his financial problems.
GOV. ROBERT BENTLEY
The morning started out with the highest profile witness so far – Gov. Robert Bentley. Prosecutors planned to call Bentley to testify about meetings with Hubbard and if Hubbard lobbied him on behalf of a business client. Alabama ethics law prohibits legislators from being paid to lobby executive branch offices.
Bentley testified for less than 20 minutes.
The State's questioning focused on meetings Bentley had with Hubbard on economic development projects in the Wiregrass, including recruiting Commercial Jet to Dothan. Bentley confirmed Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield was also in these meetings.
Bentley said he was under the impression Hubbard was involved due to his position as Alabama Speaker of the House. Hubbard is accused of using his position as speaker to receive money from the Southeast Alabama Gas District (SEAGD) and to represent it in meetings with the governor and Commerce Dept.
The State did not ask Bentley if he was aware Hubbard was working as a consultant for SEAGD, a job he was being paid $12,000 per month.
Bentley was also questioned about a trip to the Paris Air Show in June 2013 and if Hubbard was on the trip as speaker of the house.
"As far as I knew he was," Bentley said.
SEAGD paid for Hubbard's trip to Paris.
SURPRISE IN THE COURTROOM
Former Alabama Secretary of Law Enforcement Spencer Collier was in the courtroom during Bentley's testimony. He left immediately afterward.
"I'm not here for Speaker Hubbard," Collier said. "My attorney, Kenny, and I made the decision. I wanted to be here to see the governor testify. I wanted the governor to see me here, seeing him testify," the former ALEA secretary said outside the courthouse.
Collier has a pending lawsuit against Bentley and the governor's former top political aide, Rebekah Mason. The suit also includes current Secretary of Law Enforcement Stan Stabler and several others. The suit alleges wrongful termination, defamation and more.
Collier's lawsuit claims he was fired because the governor asked him to lie, and he disobeyed. He discussed the situation weeks ago in a news conference claiming the governor asked him not to submit an affidavit in Hubbard's ethics case and to lie if he had to.
This news conference was also where Collier alleged Bentley had an extra-marital affair with Mason. Those allegations led to calls for Bentley's resignation. The governor's office says Collier was fired for mismanaging state dollars, something Mason denies ever happened.
"Governor Bentley clearly instructed me not to cooperate with the Attorney General's office and the Lee County investigation. So I'm here to see the governor testify. I know what happened. He knows what happened and I look forward to maybe another opportunity where he gets a chance to testify."
We also heard from several other people specifically mentioned in Hubbard's indictment.
Lobbyist Dax Swatek testified about becoming close with the speaker and having weekly meetings with him, John Ross, Business Council of Alabama President Billy Canary, and Hubbard's chief of staff, Josh Blades.
During those meetings, Hubbard would sometimes talk about Craftmaster, a business for which is was a part-owner, and how it was struggling.
Hubbard is charged with soliciting Swatek for an investment in Craftmaster Printers. It's against Alabama's ethic laws for an elected official to solicit anything of value from a lobbyist.
According to Swatek's testimony, Hubbard asked him during a meeting at Auburn Network to be an investor in Craftmaster. Swatek said he refused for three reasons, one of those being the perception. Swatek also said he wasn't interested in being an investor, and he thought it was against the ethics laws.
"I told him that it was at a minimum bad perception, and my understanding of the ethics law was that he couldn't ask and I couldn't give," Swatek testified.
Swatek also testified about how he learned that Hubbard had a consulting contract with the American Pharmacy Cooperative. Swatek's company agreed to work with lobbyist Ferrell Patrick and represent APCI. However, Patrick didn't disclose to Swatek that Hubbard, who was the house speaker, had a consulting contract with APCI. Swatek said that upset him, and his company severed ties with Patrick immediately after learning about the contract.
That termination was on the same day the Alabama House was voting on the budget that included language that would've benefited APCI. Hubbard voted in favor of the budget.
Swatek said he was concerned Hubbard voted on the budget, and when he and Canary asked Hubbard about it, Hubbard didn't seem as concerned as they were, and said the consulting contract had been approved by the Alabama Ethics Commission.
The former head of the Alabama Ethics Commission testified Tuesday that he wasn't aware of the contract.
Former Alabama Sen. Steve French talked about how Sterne Agee Group, headquartered in Birmingham, invested in Craftmaster Printers. French said he knew Hubbard because they were both elected to the legislator at the same time.
French said his boss, Jim Holbrook, wanted French to meet with Hubbard to discuss a potential plan a group of business leaders had to prevent Jefferson County's bankruptcy.
French said he had a meeting with Hubbard in Birmingham where he asked Hubbard to help if any legislation made its way to the Statehouse related to the bankruptcy. During that meeting, Hubbard also asked if he could talk to French about personal business matters, French testified. That's when French says Hubbard told him about Craftmaster's financial struggles and how he was afraid the business would go bankrupt.
Hubbard then reportedly asked French if he thought Jim Holbrook, French's boss at Sterne Agee, would listen to Hubbard about possibly investing in Craftmaster.
According to French's testimony, Holbrook and Hubbard eventually had a meeting and Holbrook agreed to invest $150,000 in Craftmaster. French said he personally delivered a $150,000 check to Hubbard at the Auburn Network.
Will Brooke, who works for Birmingham investment firm Harbert Management Corporation and is the former chair of the Business Council of Alabama, took the stand next.
The State presented a number of emails Hubbard sent to Brooke asking for help finding ways to generate income when he learned IMG was going to lay him off. Hubbard emailed Brooke his resume and bio, and in more than one email offered to help Brooke's wife, Maggie, with legislative issues related to an organization she's involved with.
"Please assure Maggie that the language for the Boys and Girls Club is in the General Fund Budget, and I will make sure it stays there," Hubbard's email stated.
Brooke said it didn't bother him that Hubbard mixed legislative and personal business in his emails, but he would've preferred he didn't. He went on to say it was Hubbard's way of "selling" Brooke on getting him help.
The emails show Hubbard was struggling with how his public position was affecting his personal business. He described his political life as going well, but his personal business being "tough."
Hubbard is accused of violating ethics laws by soliciting Brooke, who was on the BCA board, for help finding new clients for Auburn Network and financial advice for Craftmaster.
Brooke testified that he contacted several business leaders to try to help Hubbard generate income, but he wasn't successful because businesses were concerned about getting involved with someone in Hubbard's position.
Brooke testified Hubbard also came to him for advice on how to help Craftmaster, which was struggling. Brooke said he took a look at Craftmaster's finances, and he determined Craftmaster was undercapitalized and had too much debt.
Brooke said he saw investments in Craftmaster as being the answer to Hubbard's financial problems and recommended that Hubbard find people to invest a total of $1.5 million in the company.
Brooke testified he became one of the investors and wired $150,000 to Craftmaster.