Gov. Hunt Loses Office After Conviction : Verdict: Alabama’s lieutenant governor takes over after jury finds that $200,000 drawn from inaugural fund violated state ethics law.
Gov. Guy Hunt was convicted Thursday of a felony ethics charge that he looted $200,000 from his inaugural fund, and the verdict automatically ousted him as the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.
Hunt, appearing stunned but dry-eyed, moved through the courtroom and hugged weeping supporters after the verdict was announced. He could get up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Hunt’s conviction automatically elevated Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom to the governor’s office that his father, the late James E. (Big Jim) Folsom, held for two terms in the 1940s and ‘50s.
The 59-year-old Hunt promised an appeal. He was accused of illegally using inaugural fund money, raised by tax-deductible donations, to pay personal debts and taxes and to buy such items as cattle, furniture and a marble shower stall.
His chief defense attorney, George Beck, said no appeal would be filed before a May 7 sentencing hearing. Hunt would be restored to office if the verdict is overturned on appeal by January, 1995, the scheduled end of his second term.
On leaving the courthouse, Hunt said he would go to the Governor’s Mansion to pray with family and friends. Later Thursday, he had a final meeting with Cabinet members and met with Folsom to discuss an orderly transition.
Hunt and his team of defense lawyers had argued that the governor used money from the inaugural legally to cover debts from a losing 1978 campaign for governor. But the jury deliberated only about two hours over two days before returning the conviction.
In 1991, it was disclosed that Hunt, a Primitive Baptist preacher and farmer, had accepted money while traveling to preaching engagements on state airplanes.
The Ethics Commission ruled that the governor may have violated state law by using the airplane and referred the case to Atty. Gen. Jimmy Evans, who used the decision to delve into Hunt’s personal and political finances.
After the verdict, Hunt said the trial represented an 18-month witch hunt by Evans, a Democrat. But during closing arguments Wednesday, Evans had denied political motivation. “There are a lot of good people in the Republican Party,” Evans said. “I don’t know of a single one other than this man who sold his oath to God.”
Three Hunt associates await trial on the ethics count of aiding and abetting Hunt in his use of public office for private financial gain.