The Political Round-Up
Winners, losers & the to be determined
in the Kim Hastie affair
By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Mobile County License Commissioner Kim Hastie and her lieutenant Ramona Yeager emerged largely unscathed from the crucible of their recent federal criminal trial (excepting possible psychological scars), but the local political repercussions will likely linger for quite a spell.
With that in mind, and after a lengthy hiatus, the Mobile Bay Times again summoned its posse of political savants to assay the battlefield for the winners and losers, most pretty obvious but some subtle enough to escape the less practiced eye. As is often the case in these matters, several figures can, without contradiction, be labeled both winner and loser.
The leading example may be Hastie herself, acquitted on 16 of 17 counts in a federal indictment alleging corruption and conspiracy. Hastie was found guilty only of a misdemeanor charge stemming from the release of 30,000 email addresses to the mayoral campaign of Sandy Stimpson. The maximum penalty for that conviction is a $5,000 fine. Yeager, a career license commission employee, was found not guilty of all nine charges lodged against her. She walked away completely free, if a little unsteadily from the experience.
As for Hastie, anyone willing to go toe-to-toe against the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declining opportunities to say 'Uncle Sam,' and comes out of the ordeal smiling (and crying, too) can only be deemed a winner. She keeps her office and perhaps more importantly her reputation, though the case did give the public a glimpse into some of the unsavory deceptions that are probably and perhaps inevitably ubiquitous to politics, locally and afar. She’s out at least $100,000 and probably lots of sleep. Hmmm, could 16/17ths of the cost her criminal defense be tax deductible? Might be better to leave that door closed. She and her husband John face a retrial on tax charges.
The obvious leading loser is the Department of Justice, specifically the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama and the Mobile office of the FBI. From Bob Gulledge to Freeman Jockisch, from Lambert Mims to Don Siegelman, across party lines, federal defendants, particularly of the political stripe, have decried authorities for first identifying a criminal and then spending months if not years and much money in finding the crime. Then again, can a loser really be said to be a loser if he shows up at work the next day to the same parking space, the same office with the same job at the same pay, coffee breaks, lunch times on their regular schedule? Maybe the government pursued the case for sincere reasons and not political ones. The federal government is not going to prevail in every trial; it only seems that way. Was there enough meat to the matter to push the Hastie case as far as the feds did? Opinions differ. The “yes” camp could hold that the feds are winners in a sense for reaffirming for the public that weeding out public corruption is still on their agenda. Office holders throughout south Alabama no doubt have noted the prosecution.
Graybeard criminal defense lawyers Neil Hanley and Dennis Knizley, are huge winners, particularly within the realm in which they operate. Much of the public, even those that they say they followed the trial, might have trouble naming the defense counsel and/or pairing them with their client. In any event, it appears to at least one observer that they wisely downplayed a defense that Hastie was the target of political retaliation in favor of a strategy that emphasized her work ethic and a work ethic that she demanded of previously coddled civil service workers. If the defense has to advance a malevolent motivation for the prosecution, the shrewder choice was "lazy civil service workers" rather than a clash between two camps of politicians.
Yeager perhaps deserves special mention as a winner in the imbroglio. She could've named her price to be cut loose. All she had to do was agree to be a government witness against Hastie. Considering the gulf between what she had at risk and the small penalty that would have been imposed to safeguard herself from that risk, Yeager must have had a few gut-wrenching moments along the way to those nine not-guilty verdicts. The feds had to feel like losers in regard to Yeager because they surely had her cast as witness for the prosecution and not Hastie's sympathetic co-defendant.
Without further adieu, the winners and losers, according to MBT's best and brightest:
Kim Hastie: too obvious sure but with more legal wrangling to come it can't be overstated how this result will shape the outcomes in those matters.
Women Politicos: Margie Wilcox, Connie Hudson and Bess Rich all remained openly supportive of Hastie during this process strengthening a coalition which could prove potent in local issues to come.
Jon Gray: When all this broke Gray became a pretty easy target for criticism (among several other whipping-boys) but as the drama played out it became very clear that Gray stayed true to Hastie and true to his integrity not to be pushed around by the FBI or overzealous prosecutors.
Defense team: (Neil) Hanley and (Dennis) Knizley never veered from their intent to try this case and show just how paper thin the whole deal was. From published reports they out-lawyered their federal counterparts at every turn.
License/Revenue consolidation plan: it may be hard for Hastie to regain traction quickly but I think this initiative is alive and well (much of the government's case focused on the push to combine the two officers and per the government's view in a corrupt conspiracy to benefit Hastie) . Obviously the problem is going to be having a new person in the seat of License Commissioner who will be fighting to keep the job but the common sense of it has been fully shown to the public who will back it.
Chad Tucker: Chad's rise and now fall as a go-to consultant has been stunning. Coming out of nowhere on the popular strength of Jack Tillman and Sam Cochran it looked like he was poised to have a long run as "the guy" for local races. Well 'the guy' doesn't take the money and then wire-up to hang his client. Potential candidates need to hire at your own risk - doubt they will - time to dust off career plan B. (Tucker didn't reply to opportunity to comment).
Jones Shadow aka (county IT consultant and government witness Victor) Crawford, (County Engineer Joe) Ruffer, (County Commissioner Merceria) Ludgood, (State Rep. and onetime Jones' aide de camp Barbara) Drummond, (City Attorney under the Jones administration Larry) Wettermark, etc.: The Shadow made no bones about the fact that they were pissed about Hastie's public support of Stimpson, particularly the now infamous email blast. There is no more direct connection of dots than between Jones and the U.S. Attorney's office to have instigated this whole power-play (Editor's note: 30,000 emails collected in the course of license commission business were provided to the Stimpson campaign, an act for which Hastie was convicted of a misdemeanor offense).
Crawford: separate and apart from his role in the Shadow he deserves his own special loser status. One silver lining to this deal may be that perhaps VC has typed his last binary bit into a county computer a result about 20 years too late. What a tool - good riddance. (Crawford sent the following link in response to a request for comment.)
Feds: not that they really can "lose" but the continued efforts to pursue flimsy cases against public officials is just one place in this works where presidential politics really matter. Is there a hope in the world that someone else will be in the US Atty office after the 2016 election? A near clean sweep is needed soon."
"If I was (Mobile County District Attorney) Ashley (Rich) I would indict Victor. The jury did not believe him, i.e. he was not telling the truth. Hastie is not a winner and should lay low. Joe Ruffer should retire and hope this all dies down.
Republicans should be careful when Dems control the DOJ and vice versa. Dems have not forgotten Seigelman. I think Ashley may come out of this on the high side for doing her job (not prosecuting a case that should not have been prosecuted). By not doing anything, Ashley can say there was not enough evidence to merit an indictment. U.S. Attorney (Kenyon Brown) looks like he will do anything against other party. His political future has taken a huge hit. Ashley’s remains strong if she is going to seek higher office."
"I really have no direct knowledge of this case. However, I have suspected from day one that it was political retaliation for her support of Stimpson over Jones. I have absolutely no evidence of this suspicion. However, I believe she was more effective than the candidate in that race and I do not believe the Mayor would have won without her untiring work for him.
Of course, the defense is never permitted to introduce such evidence in their case. I do not imagine we will ever find out the truth regarding the reason for this prosecution. However, when you see the star witness received almost all of the money and he was never charged and then you see that Hastie's assistant was charged who was absolutely Not Guilty, what does that tell you?
Further, I worked on a case that required me to work closely with her and her office. I have never seen a governmental figure that I did not know who did such a great job over a prolonged time period to help an ordinary citizen who had no money and no clout, whatsoever. The citizen received the relief she needed, primarily due to Kim Hastie and her staff. I had never met her before this case and still believe she does not know me. I have been told by others that my experience is the norm as she works hard all the time and requires it of her staff also. To say the least, I have not forgotten."
longtime local and state politico
"It seems (Mobile County Commssioner) Jerry Carl would have to be a big loser. He testified against Kim Hastie and has made it is mission to fight against Hastie and Commissioner Connie Hudson, two of the most popular politicians around. It should be noted that Carl's testimony was completely meaningless and did not even hint at any crime having been committed.
State Rep. Margie Wilcox would have to be a winner. She has stood by Kim Hastie the whole time."
1. Kenyon Brown, US Attorney's Office, the FBI and the IRS: Over $1 million dollarinies spent to get one full acquittal and one acquittal of everything except a misdemeanor punishable by a max of a $5,000 fine? And a mistrial in the several hundred thou tax evasion trial to collect the $50,000 that has already been paid? Ahem. Might I suggest that instead of political pay-back witch-hunts that bite you in the butt, that the Feds combine with Victor Crawford's inestimable IT genius and figure out how the Russians and Chinese are hacking into all of our systems AND where the heck Lois Lerner put all of those emails. That should be interesting.
2. The Unholy Triumvirate of the old Jones, Figures, Crawford machine: This latest set back must have them reeling and people like Brown, etc., of the new-age must be starting to not take their calls.
Winners: A longer list.
1. Obviously the defendants. The afore-mentioned villains had figured Ramona Yeager, a 40-year, quiet civil servant to be just the scaredy-cat to roll over and say meow, woof-woof or whatever else was requested when she was indicted along with Hastie. Not so. Yeager stood her ground and mounted a successful defense.
2. (Defense attorneys Neil) Hanley and (Dennis) Knizely. George Balanchine has nothing on these guys. Maybe no leaping swans, but I attended some of the trial and these two had orchestrated their defense to par excellence. Some of their strategies escaped me and picqued my curiosity, until I went back to the office and mulled over it for a while. Eureka! Excellent.
3. Jon Gray. Back in the headlines as the go-to guy for the good guys. And he can withstand a hostile examination, if it should come to that.
4. Sandy Stimpson. His like-minded political allies proved they could take the heat and that it was well worth it to have an honest, intelligent guy leading our City. People are tired of the old way.
5. The voters who like 8 minute Abs and Tags."
legal, political advisor
"The obvious winner is Kim Hastie and the people around Kim Hastie. (Political consultant) Chad Tucker has to be viewed as a loser and (political consultant) Jon Gray as a winner.
The other losers, where do you start? Obviously, the federal prosecutors. Of course, they don’t really lose. What do they lose? I can think of two high profile public corruption cases. This one and the (grant-writer) Janie Galbreth one. Galbreth almost got off. Certainly the feds usually get results but when they lose, what do they really lose. There is no accountability there.
Another loser is Jerry Carl. Jerry didn't say a lot publicly, though he did testify, but privately was he pushing this? I think ultimately, one day Jerry will answer for his role in this.
A big loser has to be Chad Tucker. (Tucker did not respond to an offer for comment.) You don't wear a wire and try to entrap your client. There were, I think, 15 recordings of Tucker calling Hastie. He met with the FBI eight times. He talked about Kim Hastie's business and others' business. I don't think he knew he was being recorded. He was asked in court if he knew he was being recording and he said, 'I do now.' Maybe there is a kind and an unkind way to look at it. Chad is just young and naive. Or it was a full-scale betrayal? I suspect a lot of people will not do business with Chad now. Maybe it'll blow over. Still there is a difference between telling the truth and calling your client to try to get them to say something that may be used against them in court.
I'd say the Mobile County taxpayers are a loser. The legislation in question was to save the taxpayers money. Now we'll have an appointed license commissioner in four months when Hastie becomes revenue commissioner. She vacates the license commissioner's office and the only name on the table right now for license commissioner is Susan Hightower (the wife of (Carl ally) state Sen. Bill Hightower and herself a recent candidate for office, only to lose in a runoff for the House District 104 seat to Margie Wilcox, whose connections to Hastie go back to their childhoods). That sort of closes the circle. Everybody forgets the voters were going to get to vote on it (the consolidation of the license commissioner and revenue commissioner postions). But now they don't get that option.
One big winner is Victor Crawford. He's a federal whistle-blower so he cannot lose his contract. (Editor's note: Authorities did not respond to a communication seeking to confirm or refute Crawford's standing as a whistle-blower.) He knew Hastie was going to the revenue commissioner's office and he knew a Republican was coming in who would fire him.
(Mobile City Councilwoman) Bess Rich, (County Commissioner) Connie Hudson and (State Rep.) Margie Wilcox were winners. You know, the whole sisterhood working in this together idea was a winner.
I'll add that I think Kim Hastie is a winner in this, not for the obvious reason that she’s innocent of the charges and in an overwhelming decision by the jury. People don't like elected officials in general so to come out of with a not guilty verdict on these serious charges says a lot. I guess the two to three dozen supporters of the defendants who were there everyday also says a lot. You know in that WKRG poll where 65 percent of the respondents said that they did not disapprove of her giving those email addresses to the Stimpson campaign? You and I both know those people didn't really feel that way. What they believed was that Kim Hastie and Ramona Yeager were being railroaded. It takes courage to do what they did which was to face down the government, and a big, intimidating government it is, from day one to not back down, to say I'm not going to plead guilty, say that I misled and stole, I am not going to do it because I didn't take money, defraud, embezzle and I did nothing against the best interests of the taxpayers.
(Mobile Mayor Sandy) Stimpson comes out a loser because of his adversaries this gives them a reason to argue that his election was tainted as a result of the emails. Of course, Sandy won because African-American voters didn't vote. The difference in the election was the lack of turnout in the African-American community. The emails were not legitimately a big deal. They can be a big deal. In this case, we know why Sandy won and those emails did nothing to suppress turnout in the black community. There may be some forthcoming civil actions that have repercussions, probably more financial at the expense of the taxpayers or the taxpayers' insurance company.
I'll close by saying the average Joe is a winner here. Everybody knows a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. Sometimes that ham sandwich that gets indicted beats the system. When the full power of the federal government comes down on you, it can be almost paralyzing. For people who get indicted it's a bolster that the federal government is not always the behemoth that cannot be defeated."
"I think (U.S. Attorney) Kenyon Brown needs to take a hard look in the mirror, and decide what he wants his legacy to be. I like Kenyon, but the decision to go after Kim Hastie in both trials was a bad one. His office needs to concentrate on more important matters. Not to say public corruption is not important – it is – but he needs to make sure he goes after the ones who are actually doing something illegal. The Hastie fiasco was all about politics, nothing more. The Jones crowd was hoping it would reach to the Stimpson campaign, but that did not go anywhere. They lost more than the verdict."
"Kim Hastie obviously was the big winner -- at least until retrial of tax case. Hopefully, she will prevail or maybe Feds will pull the plug -- though I doubt it. I heard two versions of the mistrial. One had it 11-1 for acquittal and another just the opposite. If it was 11-1 for acquittal, the Feds may offer some kind of deal that lets her keep office.
As to losers, since U.S. Attorney isn't elected I don't see a big loss there -- unless he was planning on a state run.
Hopefully prosecutors will slow down on over reaching on prosecutions -- which this clearly was. I don't know who pushed this or why on such a low-level county office."
"As I'm sure you've heard dozens of times, Kim Hastie is the obvious winner. Crawford is the most obvious loser. They both also reached the pinnacle of their learning curve. Kim, "Don't try to put a marshmallow in a piggy bank." Crawford, "Don't bite the hand that is feeding you just because it put you on a diet."
Can the County Commission deny the 28 pay raises (proposed by Hastie for license commission employees) without a massive political fallout? The County Commissioner has to deal with the 28 employees on their own now that Hastie has put them up for raises. Look for a resolution that changes the way county employees get raises. But these 28 will get their raises. At least that is what my crystal ball reflects."
"The obvious winners are Kim Hastie and her family, along with the citizens of Mobile County who will continue to benefit from her excellent leadership and professionalism in the LC office. The citizens of Mobile County are also losers due to the fact that, as tax payers, we will be forced to pay the brunt of this frivolous and politically motivated lawsuit. It is my wish that those who have, and who will in the future, instigate claims of this nature be expected to be held accountable for all costs incurred when they lose. Even though the Hastie family is considered winners, these actions will have a long-lasting impact on each of them."
local political leader
"Winners: the Judicial process
Losers: (Former Mobile Mayor) Sam Jones and Company."