By Brandon Moseley
Tuesday, April 4, 2017 attorney Ross Garber who is representing Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) in his impending impeachment hearings before the House Judiciary Committee, spoke with members of the press, including the Alabama Political Reporter., at the Alabama Statehouse.
Garber has issues with the procedures outlined by Judiciary Committee Special Counsel Jack Sharman. Garber does not want Sharman’s report on Friday made public. He also disagreed with the hearing process and proposed an alternative schedule. Garber would also like to be able to cross examine Sharman’s witnesses and present his own evidence and witnesses. Garber called Sharman’s evidence hearsay and said that he did not know that if Sharman had any evidence or not.
Garber refused to answer whether he would appeal to the court system if the Judiciary Committee does not grant his demands. Garber also brushed off a question from the Alabama Political Reporter about whether he is prepared to expose his client to testifying in a public hearing about Sharman’s charges while there are likely federal and state special prosecutors watching his every word and whether that would constitute double or even triple jeopardy.
Garber’s legal options may be more limited than just going to go to court to complain about the process. While the impeachment process parallels a criminal proceeding it is a political process governed by the legislature and is not part of the court system. Since the legislature is its own self-governing branch of government, it is doubtful that the Alabama Supreme Court would interfere in the process that the legislature chooses to operate under.
Garber also complained that you don’t “overturn an election” over an ethics violation. According to Garber, “You don’t impeach governors because you don’t like them. You don’t impeach governors because of ethics violations. You impeach them for grave criminal misconduct.”
Garber claimed that the process is unfair to the Governor because he is removed from office if the House impeaches him. The Senate would then hold the actual trial in a special session on whether or not Bentley is actually guilty and if he should be permanently removed from office. Meanwhile Lt. Governor Kay Ivey (R) would assume his powers until such time as the Senate decides Bentley’s fate.
The Alabama Ethics Commission will meet on Wednesday, April 5, 2017 to decide whether they want to actually take a stand on this case after investigating and studying the evidence for the last year. They are expected to call witnesses and hear testimony on Wednesday before making their final decision on whether to recommend that the Attorney General’s office pursue charges against Gov. Bentley or not.
Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) filed the original ethics complaint on March 25 of last years and says he will be present at the Ethics Commission as both the complainant and a witness. Zeigler says he is on call to testify but may or may not be needed as a witness.
Zeigler has been a long-time critic of Bentley and has expressed interest in possibly running for the office next year. Bentley is prohibited from running for a third term as governor by term limits even if he survives the impeachment process.
Zeigler’s complaint alleges that Bentley used state resources in his admittedly “inappropriate relationship” with former Senior Policy Adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason and that he illegally paid Mason with a dark money group, ACEGOV (the Alabama Council on Excellence in Governance). A key question that journalist investigators hope becomes public in all of this is: What special interests and lobbyists contributed to ACEGOV and its efforts to keep Mrs. Mason well compensated for her efforts servicing the Governor’s needs?
The First Lady, Diane Bentley, has already divorced the Governor after fifty years of marriage. Will his relationship with the much younger Mrs. Mason also cost him this state’s highest office?