Bentley lawyers argue in hearing that he can’t be sued for his actions in office

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (Photo: MGN Online)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A judge held a hearing in Montgomery Monday on whether or not to dismiss a lawsuit against former Governor Robert Bentley and members of his administration. The lawsuit comes from the former head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), who claims Bentley fired him for inappropriate reasons and then used state resources to attack his character.

Spencer Collier, the former ALEA head, started the public chain of events that would lead to the governor’s downfall. He says he was fired because he refused to lie to the Attorney General’s office, which he says Bentley requested.¬† After his termination, Collier went public, claiming that Bentley was having an affair, used state resources to cover it up, and that his alleged mistress was essentially calling the shots as a “de facto governor.”

When Bentley fired Collier he said¬† potentially criminal misuse of state resources by the ALEA head had come to light. But the AG’s office later cleared Collier, taking the noteworthy step of saying in a news release it was unclear why the investigation was turned over to them in the first place, as it showed no criminal behavior by Collier. ALEA, acting on Bentley’s orders, also put together an investigative report on Collier’s time in office, assembling a series of damaging rumors about him, from drug abuse to infidelity. That report was released to the public.

Bentley’s lawyers claim he did nothing wrong, but even if he did, he can’t be sued because governors have personal immunity from actions taken while in office.

Collier’s lawyer argued that Bentley clearly acted outside the scope of his office, and as such, immunity does not apply.

The judge in the case told the attorneys he would rule by Friday. A call to Bentley’s attorney was not returned. Collier’s attorney, Kenny Mendelsohn, says the issue at hand is such a big open question in the legal world that he expects the losing side, whichever that may be, will appeal.

Mendelsohn says we’ve never seen immunity hashed out in such a significant way, but he adds, “We’ve never seen a governor quite like Robert Bentley.”