MONTGOMERY — The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin considering procedures for a possible Senate impeachment trial of Gov. Robert Bentley, the committee’s chairman said Tuesday.
Sen. Cam Ward, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, said he was looking to start a subcommittee to gather information on what rules would need to be established for a Senate impeachment trial, including what presentations would be made and who would present for both parties.
“We’ve never had an actual trial take place in the Senate,” Ward said.
Once the subcommittee drafts the rules, it would be presented to the Committee, which could then pass the rules on to the full chamber for adoption. In working on the rules, Ward said the committee would likely look to other states like Illinois that have dealt with gubernatorial impeachments in the past.
Ward said an impeachment from the House is unlikely, in his opinion, but the Senate needs to be prepared nonetheless.
“It would be foolish, and we would not be doing our job, if we don’t have rules in place to handle that just in case it does happen,” Ward said. “Right now, the only thing we know is the Chief Justice presides, and the Senate acts as a jury.”
Ward’s announcement comes as several Alabama House members are considering an alternative route to get around the stalled House Judiciary Committee, which is charged with investigating and recommending possible charges for impeachment against Gov. Robert Bentley.
The plan, which could begin as early as next week, would bring articles of impeachment before the full House. At that point, a majority of the House members could vote to issue a charge against the Governor and send the process on to the Senate, which would function as a court to try the Governor for possible removal.
Rep. Corey Harbison, R-Cullman, and Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Cullman, began circulating a new impeachment resolution last week to update charges against the Governor and press the Judiciary Committee to resume impeachment hearings. The new charges held that Bentley improperly accepted a reimbursement from the National Governor’s Association and illegally used his campaign funds to pay Mason’s legal fees.
Ward doesn’t see the impeachment making it out of the House, though
“I don’t think the House is going to impeach the governor, personally,” Ward said. “I just don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Another problem is likely to cause problems if the House does deliver an impeachment charge to the Senate: the Legislature’s lack of subpoena authority.
“The big difference that we have, though, is that we don’t have subpoena power as a committee or a body in the Legislature,” Ward said. “So that really creates a totally different dynamic than in other states.”
The lack of subpoena authority would pose a problem would mean that there is no way to require evidence to be produced, either for or against Bentley.
Bentley, who was accused last year of maintaining an extramarital affair with his former top aide, Rebekah Mason, and using State funds to do so, has denied any wrongdoing and said that his affair with Mason wasn’t physical.
He has called the House effort to impeach him “political grandstanding.”
Ross Garber, an attorney for the Governor’s Office, released a statement last week denouncing the new efforts.
“Alabama law requires that any impeachment proceedings follow a strict procedure and afford the Governor due process at every stage,” Garber said. “Under the Alabama Constitution, impeachment would itself nullify an election, even before any trial in the Senate. There is perhaps no graver act in this State’s constitutional democracy.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, said last week that he expects the House to vote on the impeachment before the end of the session.
If the House delivered charges of impeachment against Bentley to the Senate, and the Senate voted to take up the charges and hold a trial for the Governor, he would immediately be suspended pending the result of the trial.
If the Senate found him guilty, he would be permanently removed, and if he is innocent, he could be reinstated. A guilty verdict resulting in a permanent removal of the Governor would require a two-thirds vote of the membership.
Last week, Attorney General Steve Marshall officially recused himself from an active investigation of Bentley and decided to appoint a supernumerary district attorney, former Montgomery County District Attorney Ellen Brooks, to oversee the case.