By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
Gov. Robert Bentley’s legal team is not happy.
Attorney Ross Garber, who’s been handling the impeachment attempt of Bentley, held a press conference on Thursday to tell everyone how unhappy he is. He called the House Judiciary Committee’s process “bogus” and said they couldn’t do worse if they tried to screw it up.
Which is, of course, laughable to those of us who live in Alabama and watch our State Legislature work on a daily basis. Garber works mainly in Connecticut, so he doesn’t know what we know – that the Alabama Legislature probably screwed stuff up way worse last week and they were on spring break.
Regardless, Garber is appalled by the unfair way his client is being treated. He filed a motion with the House committee telling them all the way their special counsel, Jack Sharman, was running this investigation “off the rails,” as Garber put it.
The complaints were almost entirely about the schedule for impeachment that Sharman laid out in a letter a few days ago. Garber doesn’t believe the schedule gives the governor ample time to defend himself, and thus, it denies Bentley due process.
That schedule has Sharman releasing the report of charges to the committee on April 7, a Friday, and then presenting that report to the committee, along with any witnesses and evidence, on April 10. Bentley’s legal team will be expected to present its defense on April 11.
Maybe I’m crazy, but that seems fair.
First, the Judiciary Committee isn’t the group that will determine if Bentley is impeached. It’s merely the first step – sort of like a sub-committee of a grand jury.
In a grand jury, the accused rarely puts up a defense. Instead, the prosecutor – Sharman, in this case – sets out the charges against the accused to see if reasonable people, looking at the basic evidence, believe there’s enough to suspect wrongdoing occurred and a trial is warranted.
In this case, the full House will make that call. After it receives a recommendation from the Judiciary Committee.
If the House believes there’s enough evidence, it sends articles of impeachment on to the Senate, where a full trial will be held. Complete with witnesses and cross examinations and evidence from both sides. And it will be the Senate, after that full trial, that determines if the Governor should be impeached and removed from office.
And all of that means that the impeachment hearings being held in the Judiciary Committee are basically a probable cause hearing. And even so, Garber and his pals will be able to answer the charges.
They have three full days to read the report and prepare (assuming they’re not keeping the same schedule as our president and weekends are reserved for golf only).
The only part of this that might give you pause is that Bentley would be removed from office immediately – basically placed on administrative leave – if the House votes to impeach him. But that’s the rule.
The front end of this process was not designed to be as impartial as the backend. The House’s role is to investigate the Governor’s potential wrongdoing and advance the process if a majority of Representatives believe there’s enough evidence to do so.
Sharman’s schedule seems to follow that objective, while also giving Garber and Bentley time to answer.
That hardly seems like an “off the rails” investigation that’s railroading a Governor. But, again, Garber’s not from around here, so he doesn’t know how bad it could’ve been.
Ask Don Siegelman.