Judge slams brakes on impeachment probe of Gov. Bentley

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- A Montgomery County judge put the brakes on the Alabama House’s impeachment process Friday afternoon, directing that no impeachment work – including hearings or a recommendation to the full House – take place until the court holds another hearing May 15.

It’s a major change in the House’s timetable. The committee handling impeachment endorsed a schedule that had the full House voting on impeachment – if the committee recommended it – on May 20.

But Montgomery County Circuit Judge Greg Griffin granted the motion by Gov. Robert Bentley’s lawyers for a temporary restraining order.

In response, the House Judiciary Committee said Friday night that it is filing an expedited appeal of the ruling to the Alabama Supreme Court.

Bentley’s attorneys had argued the House Judiciary Committee’s schedule, which called for hearings to begin Monday and Bentley to answer the charges Tuesday, did not give the governor due process under the law.

After a hearing the court barred the Legislature from:

- Holding any hearings in accordance with the procedure proposed by the Judiciary Committee's Special Counsel;

- Making any recommendations to the full House of Representatives concerning the impeachment of Governor Robert Bentley;

- Conducting any proceedings that do not afford the Governor due process under the law.

Bentley’s impeachment counsel Ross Garber reacted to the ruling Friday afternoon.

"We appreciate the Court's consideration of this serious case and are gratified by the result,” Garber said. “The Rule of Law applies. Even to the Legislature. Even in Impeachments.”

Bentley’s lawyers had also sought to block release of an impeachment report by the Judiciary Committee’s special counsel, Sharman. During a morning hearing, the judge in case indicated he was inclined not to block the report’s release, but was concerned about how little time the governor had to answer charges in the report.

But that judge, Roman Shaul, recused himself after the noon break. He was appointed to the bench by Bentley in January. Both sides in the case said they didn’t oppose him hearing the case and he presided over the morning hearing. But at lunchtime he contacted the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission, which told him he needed to be recused.

Griffin took over the case this afternoon. During the new hearing on the restraining order, the House Judiciary Committee released the 131-page impeachment report. The report also contains thousands of pages of exhibits. Much of its focus in on Bentley’s relationship with former top political aide Rebekah Mason and alleges he used state law enforcement personnel to further and cover up the affair.

The governor resisted calls to resign Thursday and Friday from Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia.