By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—The House Judiciary Committee is set to meet this afternoon for the second time to continue proceedings on the possible impeachment of Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.
A short agenda of only five items was released Monday afternoon to the media. On the agenda, a call to order, a roll call, opening remarks and an adjournment. The only topic of interest for Tuesday appears to be a presentation by Special Council Jackson Sharman.
Today, Sharman is expected to introduce the committee rules for the impeachment investigation.
A central question present throughout the life of the committee’s impeachment investigation has been whether or not members of the committee will have the power to issue subpoenas for witnesses.
According to the proposed rules, the committee will have the power to issue subpoenas, if they’re passed by the committee this afternoon.
“The Chair may direct the Clerk of the House to issue subpoenas in the name of the Committee requiring a person or persons to appear before the committee,” the rules read. A subcommittee will be responsible for issuing the subpoenas.
As far as enforcing the subpoenas, it’s still not completely clear. Unlike in the federal Legislature, the Alabama Legislature has no form of a “contempt-of-Congress” statute.
But the proposed rules still suggest that ignoring the committee’s subpoenas could result in contempt proceedings.
“Special Counsel and members of his staff are vested with the authority to cause subpoenas to be served in a manner consistent with Alabama rules for service of process and to cause such subpoenas to be enforced, including to initiate contempt proceedings either before the Committee or in a court of competent jurisdiction,” they read.
It’s unclear where the committee is deriving their authority and how it will be enforced.
The rules will also limit Gov. Robert Bentley and his defense team throughout the investigation.
When the committee calls witnesses to testify before them on Bentley’s affairs, his team — neither his personal counsel or the counsel to the Office of the Governor — will not be able to examine or cross-examine the witnesses, under the proposed rules.
Instead, Bentley’s team can “submit, in writing, proposed questions” of the witnesses. But those questions have to be approved by the House Judiciary Committee Chair Mike Jones, a Republican from Andalusia.
Efforts by the APR team to reach Jones for comments, both by email and by phone, were unsuccessful at the time of the publication of this article.
And we may not be able to get answers from the members of the committee at all.
In the rules, members of the committee are told to “avoid communicating with the press about the substance of any of the hearings or proceedings before this committee for the duration of the impeachment process.”
Sharman, the special counsel, will be responsible for leading the questioning of the witnesses. He was hired at the first meeting of the committee back in July to advise the members of the committee on legal matters related to Bentley’s possible impeachment.
The high-profile attorney was hired on the state’s dime, but he has an impressive background, serving as the special counsel to the US House Banking Committee during the 1990’s Whitewater Investigation.
When he was special counsel in Washington, he oversaw the legal team responsible for investigating then-President Bill Clinton, his wife, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton and their real-estate dealings when Bill was Governor of Arkansas.
The Alabama Political Reporter team will keep you up-to-date on the governor’s impeachment.