- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2016

OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) - A judge on Thursday pushed back the ethics trial of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard for two weeks until mid-April.

Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker ruled Thursday that he will delay the start of trial from March 28 to April 11 as the defense appeals some of his pre-trial decisions to the Alabama Supreme Court.

The ruling sets the date for the high-profile corruption case involving one of the state’s most influential Republicans. However, defense lawyer Bill Baxley indicated he will keep pushing for a postponement, noting the number of outstanding motions and appeals in the case. Baxley, who joined the case in January, said the new defense team needed more time to prepare.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been in case where’s there’s such a mass of documents,” Baxley said.

Walker had said previously that he would grant a trial delay if the sides seek appellate review of pretrial decisions. The Court of Criminal of Appeals last week declined to hear Hubbard’s appeal seeking to dismiss the case. Baxley said that the defense will appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court.

The April 11 trial date, if it stands, would coincide with the ongoing legislative session that could last until mid-May. Asked about the overlap, Hubbard declined to comment Thursday, citing his lawyer’s advice not to talk about the case.

Hubbard faces 23 ethics charges of using his political offices to benefit his businesses through legislative action, lobbying the governor’s office or soliciting new clients and investments. He has maintained his innocence and said the transactions were proper.

Prosecutors have opposed any lengthy postponement, arguing that it is time for the case to go to a jury. A grand jury indicted Hubbard in October of 2014.

Walker said he will rule soon on a defense motion to dismiss the case over allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. Defense lawyers said prosecutor Matt Hart had numerous conversations with a political consultant, Baron Coleman, who was involved with the campaign of Hubbard’s primary opponent.

Baxley said they believed prosecutors violated grand jury secrecy law and a law prohibiting using your public office to influence the outcome of an election.

Prosecutors have argued that Coleman was a confidential informant and the conversations were proper. Coleman recorded some of the conversations with Hart. Walker is listening to the recordings after Coleman turned over the tapes to the court. Prosecutors have asked Walker for a protective order to prevent them from being publicly released.

The judge at times seemed skeptical about a blanket order to keep the information under wraps.

“Are you saying he can’t testify at all?” Walker asked prosecutors.

Prosecutor Michael Duffy said while Coleman is known to be a source in the Hubbard case, releasing the conversations could disclose if he provided information on other cases. He did not elaborate.

Walker said he will hold a pretrial hearing on March 28.

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