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A grand jury closed Bentley’s case, but Supreme Court is letting lawsuit against him move forward

Chip Brownlee



Then-Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley speaks at an October 2016 press conference. (Chip Brownlee/APR)

Former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley might have been freed from further prosecution by a special grand jury that closed his case Wednesday, but on the same day, the Alabama Supreme Court refused to intervene in a lawsuit filed against him by former ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously denied a writ of mandamus requested by Bentley’s attorneys, who have argued that Bentley is immune from civil suits because the allegations took place while he was governor.

“No state official is above the law, and it gives a right to individuals who have been harmed by state officials or anybody else a right to file suit in court and seek damages just like they could against anybody else,” said Collier’s attorney Kenney Mendelsohn.

Constitutional officers are awarded a degree of immunity under the Alabama Constitution, but a Montgomery County Circuit Judge earlier this year ruled that most of the lawsuit against Bentley, Rebekah Mason, Mason’s RCM Communications, former ALEA Secretary Stan Stabler and ALEA General Counsel Michael Robinson could move forward despite those claims.

Collier’s attorneys argued that Bentley can be sued for his actions that were outside the scope of the governor’s authority, which wouldn’t be protected by sovereign immunity. The circuit judge agreed on the other counts.

“With respect to Collier’s tort claims against Governor Robert Bentley, the Supreme Court has made clear that a constitutional officer can be held individually liable in tort for conduct outside ‘the course and scope of the officer’s employment,’” Griffin wrote in his ruling.

Judge rules most of Spencer Collier lawsuit can move forward

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Following Montgomery Circuit Judge Greg Griffin’s ruling, Bentley’s attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court to intervene. With the Supreme Court denial, the case against Bentley can move forward.

Bentley’s attorneys have been deposing Collier over a four-day period, and Mendelsohn could soon bring Bentley in to take his deposition about his actions as governor.

On Wednesday, the special grand jury empaneled in Montgomery to investigate Bentley and others closed the investigation nearly a year after Bentley resigned without returning any indictments, but in an unusual move, the panel — which typically either returns an indictment or quietly returns a no-bill — called for strengthening the state’s ethics laws.


Bentley resigned in April 2017 after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor campaign finance violations.

The members of the grand jury and special prosecutor Ellen Brooks said Wednesday that holes in the ethics laws prevented them from returning an indictment against Bentley for his actions during and following a sex scandal involving Mason.

“We found a number of serious concerns about current state law that hinder successful prosecution,” the grand jury report states.

Mendelsohn said Wednesday that the grand jury’s report makes their civil case even more significant.

“To go to this trouble of talking about the serious concerns they have that hinder prosecution, that, to me, is serious,” Mendelsohn said.

The grand jury had apparently considered potential charges related to the use of state resources and the alleged use of Bentley’s public office for personal benefit. The grand jury asked state lawmakers to consider amending the state’s ethics laws to prohibit the governor from ordering reports on criminal investigations from ALEA for illegitimate reasons.

REPORT: Bentley used State law enforcement to facilitate affair

That’s almost exactly what Collier has accused Bentley of doing to him — not to mention a House special counsel report that stated nearly the same.

“They did a so-called criminal investigation just to hurt Spencer,” Mendelsohn said. “And what they grand jury is saying is that they’re really concerned about it but apparently the law allows that, but it doesn’t in the civil lawsuit.”

Mendelsohn has said witnesses would testify under oath that they were encouraged to trump up allegations against Collier in an internal ALEA audit allegedly commissioned by Bentley — an internal report that was later released to the media and included in a document dump to the House impeachment committee.

For those actions, Collier is suing Bentley for violation of privacy, defamation and conspiracy.

A separate claim of wrongful termination, related to Collier’s March 2016 firing, was dismissed last year after Collier accused Bentley of firing him as retaliation for cooperating with the Attorney General’s investigation into then-House Speaker Mike Hubbard.

Collier said that dispute, which involved Collier disobeying Bentley’s orders telling him not to file an affidavit in the case, sparked the fallout between the two men. Before Bentley’s affair made headlines — largely thanks to Collier’s public accusations — Collier and Bentley had a close relationship. At some points, Collier said he viewed Bentley as a father figure.

But after the firing and the surfacing of the affair, things went south.

Collier said Bentley and others conspired to accuse him of having his own affair, a history of sexual harassment and an illegitimate child. He also said investigators dug through Collier’s prescription drug history looking for evidence of an addiction. All of those allegations contained within that internal ALEA audit were unfounded, Mendelsohn said.

“The truth is finally coming out,” Mendelsohn said. “This was hard on Spencer. He was accused of all kinds of misconduct, but now we’re finding out that none of that was true.”

Some of the witnesses who were cited in the ALEA report have said their testimony was misquoted, taken out of context or fabricated all together and have agreed to testify to that in the civil suit, Mendelsohn said.

“The ALEA report was totally inaccurate and misleading,” Mendelsohn said.

After Collier was fired in March, the internal audit was commissioned as Bentley publicly accused Collier of mishandling state resources. Later that year, a grand jury refused to indict Collier and said there was “no credible basis for the initiation of a criminal inquiry in the first place.”

Collier’s team has said Robinson, Stabler and Mason — who was said to have wielded an inappropriate level of influence in the governor’s office, according to the House special counsel’s investigation — were involved in the development and writing of that internal ALEA report.

Mendelsohn said this civil case is important to prevent future instances of misconduct.

“We all know there are other corrupt people, and this sends the message that if you do it, that person can sue you and you aren’t going to be able to hide behind some cloak,” Mendelsohn said. “I think that’s very important.”

Chip Brownlee is a political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.



Alabama DHR announces grants providing temporary assistance for stabilizing child care






The Alabama Department of Human Resources announced on Friday a new grant program to provide assistance to licensed child care providers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Temporary Assistance for Stabilizing Child Care, or TASCC, grant program’s purpose is to stabilize the number of child care providers that are open and providing services, as well as encourage providers to reopen.

DHR is now accepting applications for TASCC grants. The deadline to apply is August 7, 2020. The total grant amounts will be based on each provider’s daytime licensed capacity with a base rate of $300 per child.

To be eligible for a grant, licensed providers must be open or plan to reopen no later than August 17, 2020, and continue to remain open for a period of one year from the date of receiving the grant award. As of this week, 1,306 of Alabama’s 2,448 child care facilities were open in the state.

“We are proud to offer this program as a support and an incentive to an important sector of our economy. These grants will give the support many providers need to reopen and assist those already open,” said Alabama DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner. “This program is going to be vital for our child care numbers to reach the level required to provide adequate services as parents return to work. We have already made significant strides in reopening facilities over the past several months; in April only 14 percent were open while now 53 percent are open.”

These grants will provide support for paying employees, purchasing classroom materials, providing meals, purchasing cleaning supplies, providing tuition relief for families, as well as other facility expenses.

DHR recommends child care providers read all guidance prior to submitting a TASCC application. Child care providers need to complete the application to determine the estimated grant amount. Grant applications will be processed as they are received and grants awarded once approved.

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An online fillable application is available for the TASCC grant at The application must include an Alabama STAARS Vendor Code in order to be processed. For questions regarding the application, please email DHR at [email protected].


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Gov. Ivey awards grant for new system to aid child abuse victims





Gov. Kay Ivey delivers the 2019 state of the state address. (CHIP BROWNLEE/APR)

Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded a $375,000 grant to establish a statewide network that will ensure that victims of child abuse receive immediate and professional medical care and other assistance.

The grant will enable the Children’s of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pediatrics to collaborate with the Alabama Network of Children Advocacy Centers in creating the Child Abuse Medical System.

 “Child abuse is a horrendous crime that robs children of their youth and can negatively affect their future if victims do not receive the proper professional assistance,” Ivey said. “I am thankful for this network that will ensure children get the professional attention they need and deserve.”

The medical system will be a coordinated statewide resource that includes pediatric physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and other medical professionals along with specialized sexual assault nurse examiners.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grant.

“ADECA is pleased to join with Gov. Ivey and those dedicated people who are part of the Child Abuse Medical System to support these children at a time they need it most,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell.

Ivey notified Tom Shufflebarger, CEO of Children’s of Alabama, that the grant had been approved.

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ADECA manages a range of programs that support law enforcement, economic development, recreation, energy conservation and water resource management.

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U.S. Attorney Jay Town announces resignation

Eddie Burkhalter



U.S. Attorney Jay Town announced his resignation Friday. (WHNT)

Jay Town, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, on Friday announced his resignation and plans to work at a Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company. 

Town’s resignation will be effective Wednesday, July 15, according to a press release. 

“After much thoughtful prayer and great personal consideration, I have made the decision to resign as the United States Attorney of the Northern District of Alabama.  I have tendered my resignation to Attorney General William Barr. General Barr expressed his gratitude for my service to the Department of Justice and to the Northern District and, despite having hoped I would continue in my role, understood and respected my decision,” Town said in a statement. 

“I am extremely grateful to President Trump, to whom I also tendered a letter, for his special trust and confidence in me to serve as the U.S. Attorney. It was an honor to be a part of this Administration with an unrivaled class of United States Attorneys from around the nation.  I will forever remain thankful to those who supported my nomination and my tenure as the U.S. Attorney,” Town continued.

Town said his job with the unnamed Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company is to begin later this year, and the company is to announce his position “in a few weeks.” 

“The Attorney General of the United States will announce my replacement in the coming days or weeks,” Town said in the release.  

Town has served in his position since confirmation by the U.S. Senate in August 2017. Prior to that appointment, Town was a prosecutor in the Madison County District Attorney’s office from 2005 until 2017.

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Attorney General William Barr in a statement Friday offered gratitude for Town’s three years of service. 

“Jay’s leadership in his District has been immense.  His contributions to the Department of Justice have been extensive, especially his work on the China Initiative and most recently as a Working Group Chair on the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice. I appreciate his service to our nation and to the Justice Department, and I wish him the very best,” Barr said in a statement.

The U.S. Justice Department in April 2019 notified Gov. Kay Ivey that the department’s lengthy investigation into the state’s prisons for men found systemic problems of violence, sexual assaults, drugs and corruption which are likely violations of the inmates’ Constitutional protections from cruel and unusual punishment. 


Town’s office leads the discussions between the U.S Department of Justice and the state on the prison conditions. 

Problems with violence, deaths and drugs in Alabama’s overcrowded, understaffed prisons have not markedly improved in the year’s since the U.S. Department of Justice released its report.

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Alabama’s daily COVID-19 deaths second highest since start of pandemic

In the past two weeks the state recorded 190 coronavirus deaths, a 38 percent increase from the previous two weeks.

Eddie Burkhalter




Alabama saw 35 deaths from COVID-19 on Friday, the second highest daily number of deaths since the pandemic began. 

The previous record daily high was May 12, when the state recorded 37 coronavirus deaths. Prior to that, the high was on April 22, when Alabama saw 35 deaths from the virus. In the past two weeks the state recorded 190 coronavirus deaths, a 38 percent increase from the previous two weeks.

While cases have been surging since mid-June, deaths have largely remained stable. Deaths are considered a lagging indicator, meaning that it takes longer for deaths to begin rising after cases and hospitalizations begin rising.

“The fact that we’re seeing these sharp increases and hospitalization in cases over the past week or two is really concerning,” said UAB expert Dr. Jodie Dionne-Odom earlier this week. “And we expect, given the lag that we know there is between cases and hospitalization — about a two-week lag, and a three-week lag between cases and deaths — that we’re on a part of the curve that we just don’t want to be on in our state.”

It’s unclear whether this new rise in deaths will become a trend, or whether it is a one-day anomaly, but the 14-day average of deaths per day is now nearly as high as the previous peak on May 14 — weeks after the state hit its first “peak” in cases per day in late April. The previous high of the 14-day average of deaths per day was 16 on May 14. The average is now at 14 deaths per day, on average.

The uptick in deaths comes after days of record-high new daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The state added 1,304 new COVID-19 cases Friday, down from Thursday’s record-high of 2,164, but the trend of rising daily cases has continued largely unabated since early June. 

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The 14-day average of daily tests was at an all-time high Friday, at 8,125, which was 308 more tests than the previous high, set Wednesday. The percent of tests that were positive also increased, however, so the new cases can’t be attributed solely to more testing. 


The 14-day average of the percent positivity was 14.22 on Friday. Excluding Thursday’s figure, because the Alabama Department of Public Health didn’t publish total tests administered on Thursday, which threw  off percent positive figures, Friday’s 14-day average was the highest it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic. 

There were a few higher 14-day average percent positivity days in April, but those numbers were skewed as well, because ADPH wasn’t able to collect all testing data from commercial labs during that time period. 

Along with surging new cases, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Thursday was higher than it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic. On Thursday 1,125 coronavirus patients were being treated in state hospitals, which was the fifth straight day of record current hospitalizations. 

UAB Hospital’s COVID-19 Intensive care units were nearing their existing capacity earlier this week. The hospital has both a COVID ICU and a COVID acute care unit designated to keep patients separated from those who don’t have the virus, but it has more space in other non-COVID units should it need to add additional bed space.

Hospitals in Madison County this week are also seeing a surge of COVID-19 patients. Paul Finley, the mayor of the city of Madison, told reporters Wednesday that local hospitals were reporting record numbers.

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