Strange fights subpoena to testify in Barron trial

Alabama State Capital, Montgomery, Alabama (MGN Online)
Alabama State Capital, Montgomery, Alabama (MGN Online)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Alabama’s attorney general is fighting efforts by former state Senate leader Lowell Barron to call him as a defense witness in Barron’s trial on campaign finance charges.

Attorney General Luther Strange argues in court papers that he shouldn’t be called as a witness because his office conducted the investigation that led to a grand jury indictment against Barron and a former campaign assistant. He also argues that he “has no direct knowledge about issues relevant to this criminal proceeding.”

DeKalb County Circuit Judge Randall Cole has scheduled a hearing Friday in preparation for a trial starting April 14 in Fort Payne.

Barron, a Democrat from Fyffe, served in the Alabama Senate from 1982 until his defeat in 2010. He held a variety of leadership positions, including president pro tem of the Senate and Senate Rules Committee chairman.

Presented with the results of Strange’s investigation, a DeKalb County grand jury indicted Barron and former assistant Rhonda Jill Johnson in April 2013 on charges of diverting $58,000 from Barron’s 2010 campaign account and a campaign car for Johnson’s personal use and for non-campaign uses. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Barron’s attorney, Joe Espy, recently had a subpoena issued for Strange to testify at the trial.

In court papers filed Friday, the attorney general sought to block his subpoena, arguing that it is inappropriate and unnecessary.

“Defendant Barron cannot show a ‘compelling need’ for the testimony of the chief prosecutor for the State in a case being prosecuted by the Office of Attorney General,” Strange’s staff wrote.

When Barron was indicted last April, he said he was “the victim of a vicious witch hunt by Luther Strange from Montgomery.”

In court papers, Strange is asking the judge to bar Barron’s attorneys from using the trial to question the motivations of the prosecution. “Claims regarding the motivation for prosecution, or of selective-prosecution, are not defenses on the merits of the criminal charge itself, and therefor are not relevant to any material issue in this case,” the attorney general’s brief says.

The attorney general’s spokeswoman, Joy Patterson, said Monday that Strange would have no comment beyond what is in the court papers.

Barron’s trial comes as Strange campaigns for a second term. He has no opposition in the Republican primary June 3 and is opposed by Democratic state Rep. Joe Hubbard of Montgomery in the general election Nov. 4.

Espy, Barron’s attorney, said Monday he plans to file a response to the attorney general before the hearing Friday.

Espy is a University of Alabama trustee and is known for taking on high-profile cases. In 2013, he successfully defended VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor on federal bribery charges. He also successfully defended Democratic state Sen. Roger Bedford of Russellville on extortion charges in 2003, and he helped former Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman with his unsuccessful effort to get a recount after the 2002 election.

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