FCC Administrative Law Judge Rules On License Revocation Hearing Against Michael Hubbard's Auburn Networks

Wings 94.3 WGZZ Waverly Auburn Michael HubbardThe FCC’s Administrative Law Judge Jane Hinckley Halprin has reached an initial decision on the license revocation hearing against former Alabama Speaker of the House and Auburn Networks owner Michael Hubbard.

Hubbard was convicted in July 2016 of six felony charges for misusing his office for personal gain. He agreed to sell Auburn Networks in September 2020 to Lee Perryman’s Auburn Networks LLC for $775,000, but that deal has been remaining pending following the FCC’s decision in February 2021 over whether Hubbard should remain qualified to hold an FCC license. The stations involved in the deal and proceeding are: Classic Hits “Wings 94.3” WGZZ Waverly, News/Talk 1400 WANI Opelika/98.7 W254AY Auburn, Sports “ESPN Auburn” 106.7 W294AR Auburn/WGZZ-HD3, Soft AC “96.3 WLEE” W242AX/WGZZ-HD4, a pending application for a translator on 105.1 Auburn, a CP for low-power TV WHBD-LD Auburn, and East Alabama Living magazine. Perryman has been operating the stations via LMA since Hubbard’s sentencing to prison.

In the initial decision, which will become final 50 days after release if exceptions are not filed within 30 days after release, unless the FCC elects to review the case on its own motion, Judge Halprin ruled that the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has not satisfied its burden of proof allowing the licenses to be renewed and the sale to Perryman to proceed.

In the decision, Halprin writes, “Rather than concealment of his consulting clients, what got Mr. Hubbard into trouble, and ultimately convicted of six felonies, was his failure to properly separate his official state position and his extra-official business activities. The determination to be made in this case, then, is whether, when a government official breaches his duty to the public by mingling government business with his own, and is convicted of felonies as a result, that misconduct warrants license revocation pursuant to the Commission’s character qualifications policy. The aim of the policy is predictive, i.e., it purports to enable the decisionmaker to consider past behavior in assessing the likelihood that a licensee, or potential licensee, will deal openly and honestly with the Commission going forward. In that regard, the 1990 Character Policy Statement builds on conclusions reached in 1986 and earlier that it is appropriate to look at “mitigating factors” in deciding whether a particular felony conviction should be disqualifying.”

She continues, “The crimes of which Mr. Hubbard is guilty are not trivial; indeed, he is currently incarcerated as a result. But the 1990 Character Policy Statement is clear that not every felony is disqualifying. Further, the facts surrounding Mr. Hubbard’s felonies do not neatly compare to those considered disqualifying in other hearing cases. His activities do not represent the kind of moral turpitude that would make them of the “shock the conscience” variety. Nor do they involve fraud, bribery, perjury, or bodily injury. Moreover, there is no evidence of FCC misconduct that would provide a nexus between Mr. Hubbard’s criminal behavior and Auburn Network’s FCC licenses. While that is not a requirement under the 1990 Character Policy Statement for finding a felony conviction disqualifying, it would provide a stronger justification for license revocation. In short, a careful review of the criminal record and all the evidence submitted fails to persuade the Presiding Judge that Mr. Hubbard does not possess the character to remain a Commission licensee. The goal of the Commission’s character qualifications policy “is not to pass moral judgment on applicants but, instead, to determine whether the public interest will be served.”The misdeeds of a public servant may indeed be relevant in gauging that person’s ability to serve the public interest as an FCC licensee, but in this particular case and under these particular circumstances, the evidence presented does not satisfy the burden of proof. Accordingly, the licenses of Auburn Network will not be revoked.”

The full ruling is available at this attached link.

This story first appeared on radioinsight.com