By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Lawyers for Gov. Robert Bentley, his former top political aide Rebekah Mason and a pro-Bentley 501(c)(4) dark-money group called the Alabama Council for Excellent Government filed three separate motions on Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit against them.
Wendall Ray Lewis, the former Head of the Governor’s Security Detail and Chief of the Office of Dignitary Protection, filed a lawsuit against the Governor, ACEGOV and Mason before Thanksgiving last month.
The wrongful termination and violation of privacy lawsuit alleged Bentley and Mason defamed Lewis, pushed him into early, involuntary retirement and interfered with job opportunities after he left State government — all because Lewis would not help the two carry out their affair.
Lewis said in his lawsuit — which included dozens of pages recounting months of the alleged affair and his final days in the Governor’s office — that he tried to help Bentley break off the affair on more than one occasion. Lewis also said Bentley had him drive around the State using State vehicles to facilitate the affair.
Throughout the final months of his job, Lewis said he warned the Governor about using State resources like vehicles, personnel and planes to facilitate his affair with Mason.
The Governor’s motion filed Wednesday requests the Court dismiss the case in its entirety. Bentley’s attorneys claim Lewis has made up lies to profit from the media storm surrounding Bentley and Mason’s alleged affair; therefore, it has “no place in an Alabama court.”
“In an effort to extract even more money from the State, he (Lewis) now is trying, through this lawsuit and a media campaign, to capitalize on false rumors and to fabricate new ones about the State official (Bentley) whose physical safety he was charged with protecting,” Bentley’s attorneys wrote.
Lewis’ lawsuit claims the Governor lied to the media about accusations that Lewis had overused overtime pay without permission, which sullied his name. Eventually, Lewis said, Bentley and Mason forced him to retire early and, after his retirement, worked to impede future job opportunities.
Lewis’ lawsuit seeks full compensation for the financial damages he said he endured. Bentley’s motion today asserts the requests for monetary compensation should be dismissed as well.
“Lewis’s case is devoid of legal merit, and he has only highlighted that reality by choosing to file a 47-page complaint — one filled with false, scandalous, and impertinent allegations that have no relevance to his actual requests for relief,” Bentley’s attorneys wrote. “He is trying to take advantage of untrue rumors, to disrupt the business of State government, and to harass the defendants. The law precludes Lewis from abusing the legal system in that way.”
Mason and ACEGOV, among other defendants, are also included in the lawsuit, which last month ignited a firestorm thanks to Lewis’ detailed account of the alleged affair between Mason and Bentley. Lewis said Mason and ACEGOV were involved in his wrongful termination by transmitting what he said were “lies” about his overtime pay.
ACEGOV’s attorneys Wednesday said in their three-page motion — which was filed separately by different attorneys from Mason and Bentley but on the same day — that Lewis failed to implicate ACEGOV in his lawsuit. They said they failed to mention the 501(c)(4) on any claims that could actually be tried.
They allege the lawsuit is “without substantial justification” for including ACEGOV and that the suit is being used to embarrass the defendants included.
“Ironically, while [Lewis] bemoans the reputational damage he has supposedly suffered, he shows no regard for reputations of the numerous individuals he named in his complaint for no other purpose than to humiliate and embarrass them by association with this ‘scandal,’” ACEGOV’s attorney wrote.
ACEGOV requested to be removed from the lawsuit and compensation be awarded for their attorneys’ fees and other costs that have been incurred thanks to Lewis’ lawsuit. Mason’s request was similar to Bentley’s and ACEGOV’s.
Mason’s attorneys requested the judge dismiss all of the four counts seeking compensation or damages from Mason. Alternatively, she asked for the lawsuit to be entirely dismissed. Mason denied any wrongdoing but said some aspects of the case are time-barred because they were filed more than two years after the last time Mason would have been involved with the Governor or Lewis’ time working for him.
Mason’s attorneys claim that Lewis was a public official and thus must show that Mason demonstrated actual malice in the defamation case, according to precedent. The claims about Lewis’ overtime pay were not defamatory, were not false and could not be “construed as highly offensive to anyone,” Mason’s attorney said.
In his lawsuit, Lewis joined a chorus of other former Bentley staffers and insiders, including former ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier, who have alleged that Bentley maintained a physical affair with Mason, not just the emotional affair the two claim.
Recordings of a sexual phone call between Mason and Bentley surfaced earlier this year just days after Collier was fired from ALEA in March 2016 and first publicly alleged a relationship between the Governor and Mason. Just a month later in April, lawmakers filed articles of impeachment against Bentley in the House.
The House Judiciary Committee began investigations later, but that investigation has been suspended at the request of Attorney General Luther Strange’s office. Strange’s office said interviews being conducted by the committee were overlapping with an investigation of their own.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Jones and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon have said the AG’s office is conducting a criminal investigation into the Governor.
Bentley has denied any wrongdoing and the existence of a physical affair, but has apologized for his “inappropriate” conversations with Mason. Mason resigned from State government in March after Collier’s allegations and the surfacing of the recordings.
Collier and Lewis have both alleged the Governor used State resources to carry out a personal vendetta against them because they both refused to help Bentley and Mason facilitate their affair. Collier also has his own lawsuit against the Governor.
Both lawsuits and Wednesday’s motions are still pending.