By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, August 10, Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) released a statement in which he disagreed with recent statements by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s (R) attorney that say that only the most serious offenses warrant impeachment. Auditor Zeigler says that interpretation of the 1901 Constitution is wrong
Attorneys for Gov. Robert Bentley filed a brief on impeachment standards to the House Judiciary Committee, in which they argued that only the most serious charges are grounds for impeachment.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler is also an attorney as well as a vocal critic of Bentley. Zeigler said that the Bentley lawyers are wrong and, “should re-read the State Constitution.”
Zeigler cited section 173 of the constitution, which sets out grounds for impeachment: “Willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or intemperance in the use of intoxicating liquors or narcotics …, or for any offense involving moral turpitude while in office.”
Zeigler said, “This constitutional list of impeachment grounds is what governs — not the arguments of the Bentley lawyers.” “Look at the actual list of the five grounds for impeachment. Gov. Bentley may well be guilty of four impeachment grounds — all except intemperance in the use of intoxicating liquors or narcotics.”
During the 2016 Regular Session, 23 legislators led by State Representative Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) introduced articles of impeachment against Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) over allegations swirling around the Governor stemming from an alleged affair with former top political advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
There are allegations that the married Mrs. Mason may have improperly have benefitted from her “inappropriate relationship” with the then married 74 year Gov. Bentley. There are questions about if State resources were improperly used to facilitate or cover up the affair. There are also questions about whether Bentley campaign dollars that went to Mrs. Mason may have violated State election laws. 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?
All of this and more is already being investigated by the US Department of Justice (who has appointed their own special prosecutor), the Alabama Attorney General’s office, and the Alabama Ethics Commission. While some legislators have urged that the body wait on those investigations to conclude, Zeigler has urged the House Judiciary Committee to pass at least one article of impeachment.
Auditor Zeigler wrote, “I ask that you schedule a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee before or during the early stage of the August 15th special session. The purpose would be to consider at least one article of impeachment against Gov. Bentley. This would allow the full House to take up impeachment in the special session.”
Gov. Bentley has acknowledged having an “inappropriate relationship” with Mrs. Mason, only after Director Collier released an audiotape, originally recorded by First Lady Diane Bentley, that sounded as if the elderly Governor and his top political aide were having romantic rendezvous in the Governor’s office. Mrs. Bentley divorced the sitting Governor in 2015. The Governor and Mrs. Mason both deny that they were engaged in any actual sex acts or that they broke any laws. Mrs. Mason has since resigned from her post with Bentley’s Alabama Council for Excellent Government.
Bentley’s behavior has been widely reported both nationally and internationally where he is sometime’s referred to as, “The luv guv.”
The House Judiciary Committee is chaired by Rep. Mike Jones, (R-Andalusia). Other members are Republicans: Jim Hill, Mike Ball, Paul Beckman, Dickie Drake, Allen Farley, David Faulkner, Matt Fridy, Mike Holmes and Phillip Pettus, as well as Democrats Thad McClammy, Marcel Black, Merika Coleman‑Evans, Chris England and Juandalynn Givan.
While the Alabama 1901 Constitution allows the legislature to impeach the Governor for crimes of moral turpitude, most legislators are reluctant to remove Bentley solely for adultery.
If the Judiciary Committee decides there is enough evidence of misconduct on the part of Gov. Bentley to proceed, they will make a recommendation to impeach to the full body of the Alabama House of Representatives.
The full House would then vote on whether or not to impeach Gov. Bentley. The House functions like a Grand Jury would in a court setting. If the House votes that Bentley probably did something wrong, the State Senate would then hold a trial.
The trial in the Senate would be presided over by the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Chief Justice Moore however is facing his own trial in the Court of the Judiciary on September 28.
Associate Justice Lyn Stuart (R) is the acting Chief Justice while the Court of the Judiciary decides whether or not they want to remove Roy Moore, and presumably would preside over the trial if it were held before the end of September. If Moore were removed as Chief Justice, Gov. Bentley will appoint a new Chief Justice to finish out Moore’s term and that new Bentley appointee would preside over Bentley’s trial in the Senate if impeachment goes that far.
If the Senate finds that Gov. Bentley is guilty of acting improperly, they can choose to remove him as Governor or they could just censor him.
The Alabama Legislature has not actually impeached any office holder since 1915 and the then Secretary of State was never actually found guilty and removed.