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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

If You Can't Beat Them Join Them

Alabama corruption fighter switches sides

Prosecutor Matt Hart while prosecuting former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard. (Todd J. Van Emst/Opelika-Auburn News)
This is an opinion column.
Say it ain’t so, Alabama.
Matt Hart, long Alabama’s most visible corruption fighter, has taken a job on the other side.
Like when Brett Favre went to the Vikings, or when Red Sox icon Roger Clemens came back to pitch for the Yankees.
Say it ain’t so.
Hart has joined the Birmingham law firm of Spotswood Sansom & Sansbury LLC – which received almost $1 million in a state contract with the attorney general’s office to help in the prosecution of former House Speaker Mike Hubbard. Hart will, according to a press release, head the firm’s white collar defense and investigation’s practice group.
He will, it appears, defend those charged with public corruption.
Dude’s gotta make a living, I know. He was unceremoniously forced out of his job overseeing the corruption unit at the attorney general’s office last year after friction with AG Steve Marshall – and pressure from those who did not want his scrutiny – reached a boiling point.
There aren’t a lot of jobs in the corruption fighting business anymore. Especially not in Alabama. It takes courage and thick skin and will and support from the top down. And just a little bit of insanity.
So it’s the end of an era. And it comes with its share of sadness for regular people in Alabama.Alabama can no longer expect any kind of commitment to fighting corruption on a state level. Oh, the AG will make petty corruption cases at low local levels, snagging bumbling bureaucrats and easy marks. And we can hope the feds will take a few looks at how business is done. But there will be no state investigations of political powerhouses, like Hubbard was when he was prosecuted by Hart’s team.
Hubbard, by the way, was sentenced to prison 936 days ago. He remains free.
That Hart goes to Spotswood Sansom & Sansbury will raise some eyebrows. The firm was paid up to $990,000 from 2014 to 2016 by then-Attorney General Luther Strange’s office to help in the Hubbard prosecution. The payments do fall outside the two-year revolving door window.
Hart, a bear of a man and a bulldog of a prosecutor, made his name in Alabama with two decades of state and federal prosecutions.
As an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District he presided, under U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, over the Golden Age of Corruption Prosecutions for a corruption task force that won 125 convictions.
His team prosecuted many in the corrupt two-year college system, and the Jefferson County sewer scandal.
Hart returned to Montgomery to lead Strange’s corruption unit, where he prosecuted Hubbard and made enemies in politics and business by investigating contracts and political donors.Hart said in a statement that joining the defense firm was an easy decision.
“The firm operates with integrity and its attorneys are elite practitioners and advocates. I look forward to offering the highest level of service to individual and corporate clients,” he said.
I get it. I do. But say it ain’t so.
Because prosecuting corruption is hard. It makes powerful enemies and receives no thanks
Alabama for years did not pursue corruption on a state level, leaving that to the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys, when they found the time and the inclination and the political will to do it.
Now, I suppose we’ll see who -- if anybody -- has the will and the backbone.
John Archibald, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is a columnist for Reckon by AL.com. His column appears in The Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times, the Mobile Register and AL.com. Write him at jarchibald@al.com.

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