Alabama House speaker's ethics trial roils state politics

By Letitia Stein (Reuters) - Opening statements in the ethics trial of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard got underway on Tuesday in a political drama that could rattle the Republican Party controlling the state, where two other top party leaders are ensnared in separate scandals. The proceedings against Hubbard, a powerful Republican who faces 23 ethics violations, involve actions taken in office and while he was a state party chairman. Alabama's governor and chief judicial officer also face scrutiny in other matters. Governor Robert Bentley, a Republican, is under fire for his relationship with a former political advisor, prompting efforts to begin impeachment proceedings this spring. Bentley is among the state party leaders who could be called to testify in the Hubbard case, according to local media. Meanwhile, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore was suspended this month amid an ethics inquiry over his urging state probate judges not to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, despite a U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that legalized gay marriage last year. Hubbard was indicted by a state grand jury in October 2014 on charges of using his elected office, along with his former post as chair of the state Republican Party, for personal gain. He pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing, describing his prosecution as politically motivated, local news outlets have reported. Hubbard's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. During opening arguments on Tuesday, state prosecutors said Hubbard used his powerful roles to send money to businesses that he had an interest in. "He sees an opportunity and he takes it,” state prosecutor Matt Hart, who oversees a special prosecutions division, told the courtroom, the Montgomery Advertiser reported. Hubbard's defense said it would show he had not committed the alleged felony crimes. “They’re not going to prove anything,” said defense attorney Bill Baxley, according to the Advertiser newspaper. If convicted, Hubbard could see prison time and removal from office, local news outlets reported. The office of State Attorney General Luther Strange, a Republican, declined further comment, noting that the judge in the case has imposed an order restricting comments to media. (Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla.; Editing by David Gregorio)