MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Governor Robert Bentley refused to appear at a hearing in State Auditor Jim Zeigler’s Office. Zeigler says his next step could be to request a writ of mandamus to try to compel Governor Robert Bentley to answer questions under oath.
“For the record I’ll ask the court reporter to record that the witness, Robert J. Bentley, failed to appear,” said Zeigler during the May 2, 2016 scheduled morning hearing that would up being a press conference.
State Auditor Zeigler says he’s not surprised the governor didn’t attend the hearing.
On April 22nd, the Governor’s Press Office released a statement wherein Bentley said that he was cooperating with the Alabama Ethics Commission with regards to the ethics complaint Zeigler filed. Bentley added that the Ethics Commission is the appropriate channel to address the questions and he did not intend to communicate further to Zeigler.
Then last Friday we asked Governor Bentley if he planned to attend the hearing.
“No, I will not,” replied Bentley.
Zeigler says the state constitution gives him the power to demand information, but not the authority to impose a penalty for refusal.
He says that his next step might be in Montgomery County Circuit Court to ask a judge to compel the governor to answer his questions, but there are details that must be ironed out first.
“The attorneys have to decide if they are going to voluntarily offer pro bono services at no charge to represent me in my official capacity as state auditor or if they will not I would need to set up a legal fund,” said Zeigler.
“This section has never been used before by a state auditor, as far as we can tell, never been used. So I am walking on new legal ground. This is a case of first impression when it goes to court. So you don’t know what the court is going to do,” he continued.
When State Auditor Zeigler was asked if he had informally contacted Governor Bentley to ask him to answer questions about the issue and he said that he had not.
“The next thing that I’m going to tell you in response to your question is unbelievable. It strains credibility. I have never met Robert Bentley. I am the elected state constitutional auditor of Alabama and I have never met him,” said Zeigler. “It’s symptomatic of the fact that these advisors have him insulated. He doesn’t hear from me or from the citizens, or from anybody else without filtering through those Governor’s advisors.”
The Governor’s Director of Communications, Jennifer Ardis, responded on Twitter that Governor Bentley had kept his promise not to attend the “Auditor’s circus.” Ardis also tweeted a photograph of Zeigler standing next to Governor Bentley at an event, challenging the claim that the two had never met.
Zeigler said that he and Bentley had appeared at some of the same events, but had never had a conversation.
He added that he expects to have an answer about whether or not to pursue a civil court action by next Monday.