By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Friday, July 15, 2016, the Office of the Governor announced that it has retained Ross Garber, of the law firm Shipman & Goodwin, to represent the Office of the Governor and Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) in his official capacity, in connection with the pending impeachment investigation by the House Judiciary Committee. Governor Bentley said in a statement, “It is my intention to fully work with the House Judiciary Committee during this procedure as it pertains to the Alabama Constitution and the US Constitution.”
The House Judiciary Committee hired former Whitewater investigation counsel, Jack Sharman, a partner with the Birmingham-based firm of, Lightfoot, Franklin & White, to be their special counsel overseeing the investigation of Governor Bentley.
Governor Bentley said. “The committee has deemed it necessary to obtain Special Counsel and it only makes sense that I do the same. I will be cooperative throughout this process and I appreciate Ross’ willingness to represent me in my official capacity.”
Garber has represented the governors of two states during impeachment proceedings.
Garber said “I am pleased to be able to assist the Office of the Governor and Governor Bentley during this unique period, and I look forward to working collaboratively with the members and staff of the House Judiciary Committee.”
Garber’s contract will have to be approved by the Contract Review Committee, on September 1, 2016. Garber’s firm has agreed to undertake this work at a discounted rate of $195 per hour.
Gov. Bentley’s personal attorney, Joe Espy, told reporters that he represents Gov. Bentley personally and is not being paid by the taxpayers. Espy said that Garber is working for the Office of the Governor and represents the institution of the Governor, which has its own interests here.
The House Judiciary Committee has been tasked with trying to decide whether or not to recommend that Gov. Bentley should be impeached by the full House.
The, then married, Gov. Bentley has admitted to having an “inappropriate relationship” with his top political advisor, the still married and much younger Mrs. Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Gov. Bentley acknowledges misconduct, but denies actual adultery. There was enough evidence of impropriety that the first lady has since divorced the Governor.
Most legislators are of the opinion that an affair, even if it can be proven, is not sufficient grounds to impeach a governor, as he is far from the only public official in the State who casually ignores their marital vows.
Other questions, however, have arisen. Were state resources improperly used to facilitate or cover up the affair? Did the Bentley campaign break campaign finance laws by paying Mrs. Mason with campaign funds. Similarly there are questions about whether or not donations to Bentley’s non-profit group were improperly used to compensate Mrs. Mason for her, “services.” Did entities, including lobbyists and corporations, donate to pay Mason in order to influence legislation? Did that make Mrs. Mason an unregistered lobbyist? Were state employees including Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Director Spencer Collier improperly fired on the orders of Mrs. Mason? Were the Governor and Mrs. Mason conspiring to try to get the ethics trial of then Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard thrown out of court and prosecutor Matt Hart removed from the case? Did the Governor and Mrs. Mason orchestrate the mass firings of ALEA investigators in order to close down several investigations into possible corruption by public officials including members of the legislature?
Some of this, or possibly even all of this and more, is being looked at by: the State Attorney General’s office Secret Grand Jury in Montgomery County, a Federal investigation being headed by the US attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, the Alabama Ethics Commission, and a Montgomery Court hearing the lawsuit filed by former ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier for improper termination.
It is our understanding at this time, that State prosecutors can not legally share their witness list and secret grand jury testimony with Mr. Sharman and the House Judiciary Committee. If the committee makes a recommendation on whether or not to impeach it will have to do so based on its own investigation and what is in the public domain and that likely could be an incomplete picture of the situation. If they make a recommendation before indictments are made public (if indictments ever come down) they could be impeaching Governor Bentley for an offense the grand jury did not find to be criminal, while ignoring something that the grand jury know about that the House is unaware of or can find no evidence for.