The Federal Communications Commission this declined to revoke broadcast licenses held by former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, ruling that the commission’s Enforcement Bureau had not proven an intent to deceive on Hubbard’s part or that the convictions disqualified him from holding the licenses.
In a 21-page ruling, Administrative Law Judge Jane Hinckley Halprin wrote that the convictions showed Hubbard “betrayed the trust of the public he was elected to serve.” But she added the Enforcement Bureau had not shown that Hubbard’s convictions meant he would act “dishonestly” with the FCC, or that the stations themselves were involved in the activity.
“It is difficult to say that Mr. Hubbard has made remedial efforts or that he has been ‘rehabilitated’ given the progress of the criminal case and the fact that he is currently incarcerated,” Halprin wrote. “On the other hand, while the stations’ management technically participated in the felonies because Mr. Hubbard is the sole shareholder of licensee Auburn Network, there is no evidence that the stations themselves were involved.”
Scott Johnson, an attorney who represented Hubbard before the FCC, said in a phone interview Wednesday the decision reflected Hubbard’s reputation in the industry and with regulators.
“His broadcast record as station licensee is remarkably good,” he said.
A Lee County jury convicted Hubbard, a Republican from Auburn, on 12 felony ethics charges in 2016, mostly related to using his public office to secure consulting jobs or financial help. The state’s appellate courts threw out six charges but allowed six to remain. Hubbard is currently incarcerated at the Limestone Correctional Center. His earliest release date is Jan. 8, 2023.
Hubbard founded the Auburn Network in 1994, and is its sole stockholder. The Auburn Network holds licenses for WANI, an AM station in Opelika, and WGZZ, an FM station in Waverly in Lee and Chambers counties. The network also holds licenses for three FM stations that rebroadcast WGZZ, and a construction permit for WHBD-LD in Auburn, a low-power television station.
In 2020, Hubbard sold the stations to Frank Lee Perryman of Marble City Media for $775,000. But the transfer of licenses, Halprin wrote, was “held in abeyance” while the complaint was decided.
The Enforcement Bureau of the FCC argued that Hubbard used the Auburn Network as a means of hiding his consulting work from the Alabama Ethics Commission. Halprin wrote that bureau had not shown that Hubbard had “an intent to obfuscate,” citing contacts Hubbard made with ethics officials on business matters.
“Public officials in Alabama are permitted by the Alabama Ethics Code to conduct outside business, and Mr. Hubbard consulted ethics officials for advice in that regard,” the opinion from Jane Hinckley Halprin, an administrative law judge with the FCC, wrote in an opinion. “While there were obvious flaws in the way he followed the advice that he was given, the fact that he reached out arguably belies an effort to deceive.”
The judge wrote that Hubbard’s convictions rested on “his failure to properly separate his official state position and his extra-official business activities,” and said Hubbard did not commit “victimless crimes.”
But she added the enforcement bureau had not shown that Hubbard’s convictions meant he would act “dishonestly” with the FCC. Halprin wrote that while the FCC had revoked licenses of individuals convicted of murder or child abuse, a 1990 character policy statement “is clear that not every felony is disqualifying.” Hubbard’s convictions, she wrote, “do not represent the kind of moral turpitude that would make them of the ‘shock the conscience’ variety.”
“The misdeeds of a public servant may indeed be relevant in gauging that person’s ability to serve the public interest as an FCC licensee, but in this particular case and under these particular circumstances, the evidence presented does not satisfy the burden of proof,” she wrote.
More:Attorneys: Former House Speaker Mike Hubbard wants to answer attorney general’s charges
Hubbard last September filed a request for early release from prison, writing that he took “responsibility for my mistakes.” The Alabama Attorney General’s Office challenged the motion, citing prison emails and phone calls where Hubbard called his conviction a “political hit job” and that he “held his nose” when signing the letter. Hubbard last December requested an evidentiary hearing to discuss the letter. Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker, who presided over Hubbard’s trial, has not ruled on the motion.
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Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or firstname.lastname@example.org.