Mike Hubbard Trial

Mike Hubbard answers questions from Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart on Wednesday, June 8, 2016 in Opelika, Ala.

Mike Hubbard is several things In Alabama: former speaker of the state House of Representatives, longtime bigwig in east Alabama radio, advertising and publishing, leader of the 2010 “Republican Handshake with Alabama” that remade the Statehouse, and convicted felon.

What Hubbard isn’t -- yet -- is an inmate. The timeline matters.

Five years ago, a special grand jury in Lee County indicted Hubbard after a lengthy and widespread investigation into corruption and ethics charges. In the summer of 2016, a Lee County jury convicted Hubbard on 12 charges, with Circuit Judge Jacob Walker giving the former House speaker a four-year prison sentence. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals last year upheld 11 of the 12 felony convictions, paving the way for Hubbard to serve his sentence. Hubbard, however, has remained free on bond.

What’s more, the Alabama Supreme Court this week agreed to hear Hubbard’s appeal on the remaining charge.

This isn’t a travesty of justice. Not yet, at least. The judicial appeals process exists in Alabama for all residents, including Hubbard. But this is a deeply troubling situation that sharpens critiques of Alabama jurisprudence that claim courts operate differently for the wealthy and powerful than they do for the poor and the politically weak. Minorities certainly may share those criticisms of Alabama’s courts.

For now, the sides are set. Bill Baxley, Hubbard’s attorney, told AL.com that Hubbard “certainly had no intent to violate the law.” That stance isn’t flying with Attorney General Steve Marshall. “Until now, the Alabama Supreme Court has only heard from Mike Hubbard,” Marshall said. “Once my prosecution team has the opportunity to brief the issues and argue the case, we feel confident the result will be the same as with the lower court rulings and justice will prevail.”

We have strong feelings about the case because of the severity of Hubbard’s crimes, which include using his office for personal gain, seeking work with state agencies for his business clients and other similar illegal actions. Those are clear abuses of political power. But we also believe wholeheartedly in allowing defendants their day. Or, in this case, yet another day, since that’s what the law provides.

Our concern today is the damage this may inflict on the reputation of Alabama’s court system, particularly if the state Supreme Court rules in Hubbard’s favor, or if he doesn’t go to prison. Alabamians have seen a Lee County jury give this influential and well-to-do politician 12 felony convictions and an appellate court uphold almost all of them. Everyday Alabamians, particularly those who haven’t served at the right hand of the governor, may wonder if they would receive similar judicial treatment.