By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY — The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to continue an investigation of Gov. Robert Bentley for possible impeachment.
The vote Wednesday comes after the committee failed to pass a similar measure at a meeting Tuesday morning. Several legislators were confused about the implications of their vote Tuesday when the committee met to discuss a letter from Special Attorney General Ellen Brooks.
“There was some confusion among members who voted against the motion Tuesday,” said Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “With today’s vote, we’re instructing special counsel to move forward with the probe.”
In late February, newly appointed Special Attorney General Ellen Brooks, who is overseeing the criminal investigation of Bentley, sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee asking them to review a 1933 case that could affect the relationship between the AGO’s criminal investigation and the House’s impeachment investigation.
A motion to pause public hearings and continue a private impeachment investigation of Bentley’s relationship with his former top political aide, Rebekah Mason, failed to pass the committee, leaving the House investigation in a holding pattern that began last fall.
The vote Wednesday will resume that investigation privately while continuing a pause on public hearings.
In her letter, Brooks cited the 1933 Alabama Supreme Court case of State v. deGraffenried, which held that government officials impeached and removed under section 174 of the Alabama Constitution could not be tried again for criminal charges by criminal prosecutors.
The Court held that having two trials violated the defendant’s rights preventing double jeopardy.
“Very soon after we closed out our meeting yesterday morning, a number of committee members approached me,” Jones said. “It was very clear quickly that there was a lot of confusion as to what the intent of the motion was.”
Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) who voted no on the motion to continue the investigation Tuesday, proposed the motion Wednesday that ultimately passed.
The motion directs special counsel Jack Sharman to “resume his activities and investigation and to coordinate as much as practical and possible with any other related investigations and proceedings so that we will stand better ready to move forward with public hearings when appropriate.”
Bentley, who was accused last year of maintaining an extramarital affair with 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.”
The committee suspended their investigation in November after then-Attorney General Luther Strange sent the committee a letter warning them of “necessary related work.”
Last month, Attorney General Steve Marshall officially recused himself from an active investigation of Bentley and decided to appoint Brooks, a former Montgomery County District Attorney, as a special attorney general to handle the criminal probe.
Attorneys from the Governor have criticized the impeachment hearings in the past. They have said the Governor should be afforded due process in the House by allowing his attorneys to interview witnesses and present their own evidence, which the Committee has been hesitant to do.
If the House votes to deliver impeachment articles, the Governor will be suspended immediately and will remain suspended unless he his acquitted in a Senate trial.
“In other words, impeachment would immediately throw out the votes of Alabama citizens,” said Ross Garber, an attorney for Bentley’s office. “This is not something that can be done without due process and very substantial evidence of serious wrongdoing.”
There has been no date set for when the Judiciary Committee may meet again to discuss the articles of impeachment.