- Associated Press - Thursday, February 11, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - State prosecutors Thursday fired back at House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s claims of misconduct and leaks in his ethics case calling it “a desperate last minute attempt to avoid a trial.”

Prosecutors filed the response to the defense accusation that a political consultant for Hubbard’s primary opponent had dozens of conversations with lead prosecutor Matt Hart. Political consultant Baron Coleman wrote in an affidavit filed by the defense last week that he used the information for a “whisper campaign” to damage Hubbard politically during the 2014 election.

Prosecutors did not dispute that conversations happened but said that Coleman had been a confidential informant since 2012 and prosecutors were trying to obtain information from him in those conversations.

Acting Attorney General W. Van Davis wrote in the filing that the conversations Hart had with Coleman, “were all lawful and appropriate because they were all conducted in the context of Coleman’s status as an informant.”

“At bottom, the Renewed Motion is yet another ploy to force Hart to testify so that the defense may then move to disqualify him from the case,” Davis wrote.

Prosecutors noted that Coleman never explicitly stated that Hart gave him grand jury investigation information that is supposed to be secret. Davis also quoted Coleman’s previous public statements that he had gotten “no leaks” about the case.

Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker has scheduled a Tuesday hearing in Opelika about the defense accusation. Hubbard defense lawyer Lance Bell has asked Walker to dismiss the case, saying prosecutors committed “gross misconduct.”

Hubbard’s defense has subpoenaed Coleman to appear at the hearing and bring any audio or visual recordings he has of conversations about the Lee County grand jury and investigation, according to court records.

Prosecutors filed a separate motion asking the judge for a protective order to keep any information from Coleman out of the public view.

During the 2014 election, Coleman was a political consultant for Hubbard’s primary opponent, Sandy Toomer. He had also been on the opposite side of Hubbard on numerous political issues. However, his affidavit provided the defense with ammunition as Hubbard seeks to get the case tossed before it goes to trial.

Prosecutors also submitted an affidavit from Toomer and Coleman’s business partner Jack Campbell to try to refute defense accusations. Campbell said Coleman had previously told him that Hart never disclosed what was going on with the grand jury, but that he would sometimes infer from Hart’s line of questioning who might have been called to testify.

Campbell also wrote that Coleman was mad because he believed Hart had “used him” and also feared the possibility of a bar complaint from Hubbard’s lawyers.

Hubbard is scheduled to go to trial March 28 on ethics charges accusing him of using his public positions, as speaker and former Alabama Republican Party chairman, to benefit his businesses. Hubbard has maintained his innocence and said the transactions were legal.

Coleman wrote in his affidavit that he had been contacted by law enforcement officers.

Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier, in an accompanying affidavit to the prosecution response, said Coleman approached him with information, but the agency was not investigating Hart. Collier said he directed an agent to question Coleman. The agent said that Coleman did not allege criminal wrongdoing.

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