House Judiciary Committee approves rules for Gov. Bentley impeachment proceedings

Carol M. Highsmith Archive (Library of Congress)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — The House Judiciary Committee approved rules for impeachment proceedings against Governor Robert Bentley during its first meeting since the legislative session.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Jones says that the state is in uncharted territory with the current impeachment proceedings against Governor Robert Bentley. He told CBS42 News that the last time the Alabama Legislature moved to impeach was 1915.

He says they archived virtually nothing.

The House of Representatives approved new rules of impeachment and also a passed a resolution to begin articles of impeachment against Bentley back in May. With assistance from the Alabama Law Institute, a legal legislative agency, members of the committee asked questions and expressed concerns about the process.

The burden of proof they should go by, the level of due process which should be afforded to the governor, and the possibility of conflicts of interest among committee members assigned to the task were a few of the topics they covered.

Director of ALI, Othni Lathram, said after researching other states and U.S. Congress there is “no clear guidance” about conflicts of interest and when to recuse. Rep. Jones said it was just like the House floor, and that individual members who feel they need to recuse must make that decision for themselves. They cannot be compelled to recuse, according to Jones.

State Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Jefferson County, said she was very concerned about the perception of conflict of interest.

“We’re sitting in a room today where key witnesses and accusers of the governor are sitting here in the room today. How flawed is this process?” asked Givan.

Rep. Jones said that it was an open meeting and that by law anyone who wanted to attend could be there provided there was enough space.

Responding to Representative Givan, committee member and Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, said that he had gone to the Alabama Attorney General’s Office last September to request an investigation into allegations against Bentley, but said he hadn’t heard from anyone in that office since then. He added that he saw no conflict of interest or reason to recuse at this point, in part because even if the committee recommends impeachment- it will go to the full House for a vote before it goes to the Senate for an actual trial.

“When it comes down to it I’m going to represent my constituents and view what is brought before us,” said Farley. “And at the time it comes for me to make a vote I may decide to abstain.”

Lathram compared the impeachment process to a grand jury investigation.

Farley said there are key differences in the two including the fact that one is done in secret and the other is a public meeting and the severity of the consequences are another.

Former ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier was also in the meeting with his attorney, Kenny Mendelsohn.

Collier and Mendelsohn said that if the committee subpoenaed him to testify he would do so.

Attorney Joe Espy, who represents Governor Bentley, says he objects to the presence of three lawmakers on the committee who voted in favor of impeachment proceedings.

Espy said Farley cannot be considered impartial in the case and said that this is a legal matter that must be perfectly fair.

“I respect all three of them and Governor Bentley. This is not personal. I want to make that real clear. It’s simply a matter of following the constitution and fundamental due process which the House has mandated. And you cannot be an accuser and hear the case. It’s a matter of fundamental constitutional law,” said Espy. “They taint the process. From the beginning the process is tainted. And I respectfully say from the beginning why go through this if the beginning is tainted.”

Committee Chairman Jones said the next step is to select a subcommittee to hire special counsel for the House Judiciary Committee.

In all he said he could not speculate on how long the process will take, but he did say that he hopes it doesn’t drag on for a year.  Jones said he did not know when the next meeting will be because it is dependent upon the subcommittee.

Once the hearings begin, Jones said he wants them to be as close together as possible so that any testimony is fresh on the minds of committee members.

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