Fired chancellor says he helped Schmitz find job

Published 11:52 pm Tuesday, August 19, 2008

DECATUR – The fired chancellor of Alabama’s two-year college system testified Tuesday that he helped find state Rep. Sue Schmitz a job in the system’s two-year college system after being asked by House Speaker Seth Hammett and the head of the state teacher’s union, Paul Hubbert.

Former chancellor Roy Johnson, who has pleaded guilty to bribery, money laundering and other charges, was the first witness called by prosecutors in the federal fraud trial of Schmitz, who is accused of making more than $177,000 with the system’s CITY program from 2003 to 2006 while rarely showing up at her Huntsville office.

Earlier, prosecutor William Athanas told jurors in opening statements that Schmitz used her connections with Hammett, D-Andalusia, Hubbert and Johnson to get the job, then did little work.

“It’s going to be clear the defendant viewed her job not as an obligation, but as an entitlement,” Athanas told jurors.

But defense attorney Buck Watson said Schmitz was dedicated to the federally funded program that helps troubled teenagers. He said she worked hard promoting it across the state. He described the 63-year-old Schmitz as a dedicated legislator and former high school teacher, who still lives on the land where she was born.

“I’m telling you Sue Schmitz didn’t steal any money and she never intended to steal any money and the government is not going to prove she stole any money,” Watson told the jury.

Schmitz was first elected to the Legislature in 1998 and worked as a teacher at Sparkman High School in Madison County during her first term. Johnson testified that Hammett and Hubbert came to him after Schmitz was elected to a second term in 2002. Johnson said they told him she needed a new job because her school system would no longer allow her to hire a substitute while she was in Montgomery for meetings of the Legislature.

He said three years after helping her secure the job he had a meeting with her CITY program supervisor.

“She was complaining that Sue Schmitz was not just not showing up for work, but didn’t show up at all,” Johnson said.

Under cross examination by defense attorney Jake Watson, Buck Watson’s son, Johnson admitted he had agreed to testify against Schmitz in hopes of getting a lighter sentence.

“You understand that without your cooperation agreement you may be looking at the rest of your life in the penitentiary,” Watson asked.

“I may be looking at that anyway,” the 63-year-old Johnson replied.

Later, Hammett testified that Schmitz came to him shortly after her election in 2002 and asked him to help her find a job. He said she mentioned the CITY program and asked if he could help the program receive additional funding to hire her. Hammett said Hubbert also asked him to do what he could to help Schmitz.

Hammett said he then met with Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, and asked him to put extra funding into the budget for the CITY program. He said he then called Johnson and told him, “if a job is available I’ll do my best to make sure the money is available.”

Under cross examination, Hammett, known in the Legislature for his calm businesslike manner, was asked by Jake Watson if he was scared.

“I wouldn’t say I’m scared. But I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable,” Hammett said.

Testimony will continue Wednesday. U.S. District Judge David Proctor told jurors the trial could last up to four weeks.