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Investigation into the Bentley concludes with no charges, report calls for stronger ethics laws

Gov. Robert Bentley shakes hands with new Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, after signing his appointment letter at the state Capitol in Montgomery, Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. Marshall has served as the district attorney in Marshall County in north Alabama, appointed to the post in 2001 and re-elected three times. He is a past president of the Alabama District Attorney's Association and currently serves as commission chairman of the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center.(Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)

The nearly two-year long investigation into former Gov. Robert Bentley has concluded with no charges, but the grand jury investigating him suggested in a public report that the Legislature needed to look into strengthening the ethics laws.

In 2016, the Attorney General’s Office motioned for a Special Grand Jury to investigate a series of claims against Bentley and other associates. The claims included ethics violations, obstruction of justice, and the campaign finance violations.

Ultimately, Bentley resigned pleading guilty to two counts of campaign finance wrongdoing and was sentenced to probation and community service.

In the filing, the Special Grand Jury outlined that Bentley could not be prosecuted for personal gain in office due to the current status of the state’s ethics laws. They listed three areas of concern:

  • The Ethics Act does not cover non-spousal intimate or romantic relationships.
  • The Law Authorizes the Governor to appoint the Secretary of Law Enforcement and does not prohibit the Governor form initiating, directing, or receiving reports on criminal investigations for illegitimate political purposes.
  • State law does not prohibit non-government personnel from performing the functions of a public employee while receiving payment from a private entity for that work (so-called loaned executives), and there is a question whether the Ethics Act clearly covers such individuals.

“While this list is not exhaustive, the issues are sufficiently serious as to warrant the Alabama Legislature to revisit the Alabama Ethics laws and the Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act as soon as possible,” the report read. “In that light, we ask the Special Assistant Attorney General heading this investigation to deliver a copy of this report to the appropriate state and local officials for their consideration.”

An ethics reform is coming next session according to comments from the Legislature’s leadership, but others view that laws passed during the 2018’s session, such as the economic developer’s bill, worked to weaken the Ethics laws.

According to earlier reporting from the Alabama Political Reporter, the Ethics Commission will work to gather recommendations for Legislative Session set for next year.

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Troy King, a Republican candidate for state attorney general, took a hard stance following the decision by the Special Grand Jury.

“Former disgraced Governor Robert Bentley and his co-conspirators will not be held accountable and no other charges will be filed,” the candidate wrote in a Facebook post. “For the second time this week, justice has been lost at the hands of Steve Marshall. Under this Attorney General, justice is not being delayed in Alabama, it appears to be dead.”

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