- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

FORT PAYNE, Ala. (AP) - A judge in Fort Payne rejected an attempt by former state Senate leader Lowell Barron to make the state attorney general testify at his trial next month on campaign finance charges.

Barron’s lawyer had issued a subpoena for Attorney General Luther Strange and wanted him to testify about his campaign finances. The attorney general’s office objected in a hearing Friday in Fort Payne, saying there was no compelling need for Strange to testify.

In an order Wednesday, DeKalb County Circuit Judge Randall Cole conditionally stopped the subpoena for the attorney general to testify. The judge said there is no compelling need for the state’s top prosecutor to testify if the evidence can be obtained from other sources. He said the subpoena is blocked as long as state prosecutors won’t object to Barron’s lawyers offering the attorney general’s campaign finance reports as evidence if the judge determines they are relevant to the case.

The attorney general’s office declined comment on whether it will agree to the judge’s conditions.

Barron’s lawyer was out of his office Wednesday and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The attorney general’s staff got a DeKalb County grand jury to indict Barron and former campaign aide Rhonda Jill Johnson last year on charges accusing them of diverting $58,000 from Barron’s 2010 campaign account and a campaign car for Johnson’s personal use and for other non-campaign uses. Prosecutors contend most of the money went to Johnson so that she could pay off a loan Barron gave her to buy a house. Barron and Johnson have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to be tried together April 14.

Barron’s lawyers sought to call the attorney general as a trial witness to question him about campaign fund payments he made to campaign aide Jennifer Garrison. They said they wanted to show that Barron’s payments to Johnson were customary in Alabama politics.

In connection with the attorney general’s subpoena, the judge ruled that Barron’s lawyers can’t claim during the trial that he’s a victim of selective prosecution.

The judge’s ruling Wednesday also addressed another issue raised by lawyers in advance of the April 14 trial for Barron and Johnson.

Barron’s attorneys wanted to stop the prosecution from using any of the more than 500 pages of testimony that Johnson gave to a DeKalb County grand jury. They argued that the statements could hurt Barron’s case without his lawyers having an opportunity to question his co-defendant in front of the jury.

The judge ruled prosecutors can’t seek to offer any of her statements at trial without first notifying him outside the presence of the jury. Then he can rule on whether they can be used.

Barron, a Fyffe businessman, served in the Senate from 1982 to 2010, when he lost his re-election campaign. He was one of the Senate’s most powerful members, serving as president pro tem and Rules Committee chairman. Johnson worked on his Senate staff and then switched to his campaign staff for the 2010 election.

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