By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
The next hearing of the Alabama Ethics Commission could prove significant as sources close to the commission believe that some of the ethics complaints filed against Governor Robert Bentley will be presented.
If the evidence submitted at April 5 meeting shows probable cause, it would still require a vote by the Commission to forward the matter to the Attorney General’s office or the appropriate District Attorney for presentation to a grand jury.
At present, Gov. Bentley has, in the last year, appointed two out of the five commissioners who would vote on his case. They are Frank C. “Butch” Ellis, Jr., and Judge Charles Price.
Ellis, a Columbiana attorney, is married to Diane Bentley Ellis, Gov. Bentley’s second cousin. According to a 2010 story in the Shelby Country Reporter, Gov. Bentley’s father Harford’s brother Bruton Bentley’s son Waymon is the father of Diane Bentley Ellis.
Bentley appointee, Judge Charles Price, has already proven his willingness to vote on matters before the commission, even when he had a conflict of interest as he did on Oct. 5, 2016.
The conflict arose when he voted yes on an Advisory Opinion that permitted the City of Montgomery to give money to the local Chamber of Commerce of which Price was a board member, shortly after he became its president.
The investigative arm of the State Ethics Commission led by Chief Special Agent Tony Goubil has reported completion of much of its probe and may present its finding to the commission at the April 5 meeting.
According to the Ethics Commission website, the matter could be closed because the Ethics Commission does not have jurisdiction regarding the alleged wrongdoing, or the Statute of Limitations has expired due to lack of evidence to support the complaint.
If however there is significant proof of wrongdoing the commissioners could vote to send the matter to the Attorney General’s Office, which is currently conducting a Special Grand Jury investigation under former Montgomery District Attorney Ellen Brooks, who became Special Prosecutor after Attorney General Steve Marshall recused from the case.
Several ethics complaints are currently under investigation including but not limited to charges brought by State Auditor Jim Zeigler and State Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow (D-Red Bay).
In March 2016, the Commission acknowledged it was investigating Zeigler’s allegations that Bentley and his senior political adviser/alleged mistress Rebekah Caldwell Mason violated portions of State’s ethics laws, such as using State resources like, bodyguards, vehicles, and jets to facilitate their alleged romantic encounters.
Zeigler’s complaint also took issue with Mason being paid by a private charity: Bentley’s Council for Excellence in Government, a dark money group.
Morrow filed ethics complaints against both Rebekah Mason and her husband, Jon, citing their failure to “truthfully, fully, and accurately file their Statements of Economic Interest (SOEI) with the State’s Ethics Commission.”
In an earlier complaint, Morrow accused Mason of killing his local bill, because as her community college instructor 25 years ago, he had given her a grade she did not like. “This all ties back to my local bill, the very nerve of these people thinking they could veto a local bill for a personal vendetta is beyond belief,” said Morrow at the time.
There may be other complaints not yet revealed to the press.
It is unclear if Ellis or Price will recuse from the proceedings.
Commissioners are not bound by the ethics laws they are charged with enforcing.