Special Counsel: Impeachment report on Governor Bentley will focus on facts, framework

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Special Counsel Jack Sharman, hired by the House Judiciary Committee to investigate the governor for possible impeachment, says his report to the committee will largely detail facts found, not recommendations.

He explained, "We lay out our understanding of people and events. We lay out the potential legal standards that the committee can apply to those facts and try to give them guidance about those standards."

Potential legal standards are an important piece of how the committee weighs the decision to recommend impeachment or not.

How much evidence do they need? Sharman gave a few examples of standards, "Beyond a reasonable doubt, the kind of standard that is used in a criminal proceeding. Is it probable cause? The kind of standard that a grand jury or the Alabama Ethics Commission would use. Is it something in between, a more likely than not, preponderance of evidence kind of standard?"

He said the committee may not even all use the same standard when deciding whether or not to recommend the Governor be impeached, "It's really a menu for the committee, so that they can decide individually what standard they wish to apply."

As for the timeline Sharman laid out for proceedings going forward, he said, "We do think it's a reasonable way to proceed."

The schedule calls for releasing the special counsel's written report next Friday. The special counsel would present to the House Judiciary Committee the following Monday. The governor's team would present the day after.

The governor's lawyers say that's way too fast since they don't know precisely what they're responding to, but Sharman said they should already have their facts together, "The claim that there has not been enough time for a record to be offered by anyone is just not borne out by the facts. We've been at this for months."

Bentley's lawyers also question whether it's appropriate to have Sharman summarizing witness statements for the committee in his written report. Bentley's attorneys say that violates due process.

Sharman said it's too early for that concern, "In the posture in which we find ourselves, that is, an investigation into whether a recommendation for a potential charge should be made or not, the governor is being provided far more process, that is, the ability to make a presentation, to call witnesses, to cross-examine witnesses, to provide a summary statement, than the target of a grand jury for example is ever provided. Or even a criminal defendant in Alabama state court or Alabama federal court."

Sharman said because it's the House that decides to bring charges, via impeachment, the committee is just part of the investigative process.

"No matter what the judiciary committee did," Sharman said, "the governor would probably claim that due process was still lacking, and that's just not the case here."

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