|Rebekah C. Mason and Robert Bentley|
That means taxpayers will be paying the bill for Bentley and Stabler to defend themselves in a legal action that was brought against them as individuals, not in their official capacities. The money will go to the Birmingham law firm Maynard Cooper Gale, which we've shown has some shaky ethics of its own.
Members of the Contract Review Committee should keep this in mind: The Collier matter might not be the only lawsuit facing Bentley, Stabler, or both in the near future.
According to multiple news reports, Bentley ordered the use of state and federal criminal databases to help gather information to attack his critics. One report has said the plan was to concoct bogus criminal charges against citizen journalists who broke the story of Bentley's affair with senior advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
Another report has Bentley unlawfully accessing the medical records of at least one critic.
Could these issues lead to significant civil liability for Bentley and Stabler (and perhaps some of their associates)? Could they lead to more lawsuits, for which taxpayers might be on the hook? The answer to both questions is yes, and Alabamians might want to consider contacting legislators to let them know this isn't the way they want to see their tax dollars spent.
The potential problem does not end there. We know Bentley and Mason are the targets of a federal investigation led by John A. Horn, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. Here is how Bill Britt, publisher of Alabama Political Reporter, recently characterized the federal probe:
A task force from the FBI, the Postmaster General, and the IRS is conducting the investigation into allegations of obstruction of justice, fraudulent use of campaign contributions, improper use of State resources, and other potential criminal acts, according to former Bentley confidants, and staffers, who are cooperating with the investigators. The most serious scrutiny surrounds Bentley’s involvement with Rebekah Caldwell Mason, his former senior advisor, and alleged paramour.
This is how Alabama attorney Donald Watkins put it recently:
The FBI's investigation of Bentley is focused on his racketeering and public corruption conduct as governor. His primary accomplice in these crimes was Rebekah Mason.
The governor is aware that his federal criminal indictment is imminent. The number of counts in the indictment is expected to set a record for a federal racketeering and public corruption case. Bentley will be arrested at his capitol office, which is the headquarters for his racketeering enterprise.
Could such a wide-ranging criminal investigation lead to civil liability? You might want to pose that question to O.J. Simpson sometime. My answer: You can count on it.
If Alabama taxpayers are on the hook for $200,000 to defend Bentley Inc. against one lawsuit, what if three, five, 10 or more lawsuits are right around the corner? Will taxpayers put up with being asked to pay more than $1 million to defend a governor who really can't be defended?