Facing Possible Charges, Alabama Governor Seeks Forgiveness and a Restraining Order

Facing the possible end of his political career and potential criminal charges, Gov. Robert Bentley went to God Friday. His attorneys went to court.

By Brian Lyman

Facing the possible end of his political career and potential criminal charges, Gov. Robert Bentley went to God Friday. His attorneys went to court.

In his first public statement since the Alabama Ethics Commission found evidence Bentley violated ethics and campaign finance laws -- and hours before the expected release of a report beginning hearings on his impeachment -- Bentley said he had faced major struggles in the past year, and asked Alabamians to "please forgive me."

"Once again, let me say to the people of the state how sorry I am," Bentley said. "There's no doubt I have let you down. All I ask you continue to pray for me, and I will continue to pray for you."

While Bentley sought forgiveness, his attorneys put the finishing touches on legal briefs. In a filing Friday morning, the governor's attorneys asked Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Roman Shaul to issue an restraining order against the release of the report and impeachment hearings scheduled to start next week. The filing argued that the House Judiciary Committee, which will decide whether to recommend impeachment to the full chamber, had not given Bentley the opportunity to mount a defense -- including notice of charges and the ability to cross-examine witnesses -- and violated his due process rights.In doing so, the attorneys argued, the House had exceeded its authority.

The filing called the articles of impeachment "impermissably vague and ambiguous."

"Clear United States and Alabama Supreme Court precedent establish that the governor is entitled to due process protections in impeachment proceedings brought against him," the filing stated, noting the House's adopted rules on impeachment last year.

Shaul, appointed by Bentley in January, held a hearing on the motion Friday morning. Ross Garber, an attorney representing Bentley, argued in court that other states that tried to impeach governors laid out an orderly process for doing so. Garber cited the 2009 impeachment and conviction of Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and the 2004 attempt to impeach Connecticut Democratic Gov. John Rowland, who resigned before the impeachment process could take place. Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham, a Republican, was impeached and removed from office in 1988.

"It should be clear we're not asking the court to be able to manage the Legislature in this respect," Garber said. "The fundamental question is, does due process apply?"

Othni Lathram, the director of the Alabama Law Institute and an attorney with the House Judiciary Committee, said Bentley was seeking "extraordinary relief."

"You have a branch of government, the executive branch, who has come to a separate branch of government attempting to enjoin the proceedings of a third, co-equal branch of government," Lathram said.

The hearing was continuing as of late Friday morning.

Bentley's remarks -- as much religious testimony as political statement -- were an emotional opening to what could be an embarrassing day for the state of Alabama. The House Judiciary Committee's special counsel should give the committee a report before 5 p.m. today expected to touch on allegations that Bentley pursued an affair with senior political adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason; used state resources to pursue it and attempted to prevent a law enforcement official from signing an affidavit in a criminal investigation of then-House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn.

Bentley has acknowledged making inappropriate remarks to Mason, but both deny a sexual affair or any misuse of resources. But the governor Friday hinted that the report might go into detail about the relationship.

"Exposing embarrassing details of my past personal life, as has happened in the past, and as I'm told will happen again, will not create one single job, will not pass one budget," Bentley said. "It will not help any child get a good education. It will not help a child get good health care."

The governor, who served for years as a deacon in a Baptist church, repeatedly invoked his religion during his six-minute statement, saying he had asked God to "take these struggles" from him in a private moment last May. Bentley, whose wife Dianne divorced him in 2015 after 50 years of marriage, said he had tried to rebuild his relationship with his family.

At the same time, Bentley also criticized those who had "taken pleasure in humiliating and shaming me, and shaming my family (and) shaming my friends."

"I really don't understand why they want do that," he said. "It may be out of vengeance, jealously, (or) anger; it may be out of personal political benefit. I would ask them to please stop

The Ethics Commission report -- which found evidence Bentley had misused his campaign funds and state resources -- appeared to galvanize legislators Thursday. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, who generally avoided direct comment on Bentley's woes, called on the governor to resign, saying he could no longer be effective.

The governor did not directly address the Ethics Commission's decision to refer charges to the Montgomery County DA Friday. But he insisted he did not violate any laws.

"Once again, let me say I do not plan to resign," he said. "I have done nothing illegal. If the people want to know (whether) I misused state resources, the answer is simply no, I have not."

Reporter Andrew Yawn contributed to this report.

(c)2017 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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