|Robert Bentley mugshot
A provision in the agreement was that Bentley would not receive his pension, under Code of Alabama 36-13-11. But Bentley was not entitled to receive a pension, according to a new report from Inside Alabama Politics (IAP), a subscription-based newsletter that long has dished in an entertaining and informative fashion on politics in the "Heart of Dixie."
Supernumerary District Attorney Ellen Brooks implied at a press conference after the plea deal was reached that the loss of pension benefits would be a blow to Bentley -- and would produce significant savings for the public. Neither is true, according to IAP:
One of the penalties for former Gov. Robert Bentley as detailed in the plea agreement with the State was that he would not receive his pension under section 36-13-11. In a press conference held immediately after Bentley’s guilty plea Supernumerary District Attorney Ellen Brooks told the press that rescinding Bentley’s retirement benefits saved the state more than $1 million.
“An important factor that you may not realize is that he gave up his retirement benefits. Based on a life expectancy chart we believe we have saved the state over $1 million that he could have been paid on a monthly basis for his retirement,” Brooks said.
Was Brooks blowing copious amounts of smoke up Alabama fannies? The answer is yes, and you'd think Alabama citizens would be used to that from Republicans, by now:
However, a quick reading of the footnotes by a learned lawyer would reveal that Bentley was never entitled to a pension in the first place. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled in 1977, two years after the law allowing former governors to a pension was passed, that the statute violated Alabama’s Constitution.
Bentley could ask the state for back pay and turn back on his campaign promise not to take a salary, especially since there are no political consequences anymore. But even if that were possible it is doubtful such a judgment call would fall in Bentley’s favor.
That 1977 case was styled Zeigler v. Baker, 344 So. 2d 761 (Ala. Sup. Ct., 1977). The case started with a pro se citizen complaint from a man named John Baker -- and it shows that pro se parties do not always get whacked in Alabama courts. Baker had been elected to the Alabama Senate, which almost certainly helped him get treated with a modicum of respect in court. In fact, he prevailed when the case was heard in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
|John Baker, of Rainsville
This is an appeal from an order of the Circuit Court of Montgomery County enjoining the Comptroller, acting Finance Director and Treasurer of the State of Alabama from making payments from public funds under the authority of Act No. 343 of the Regular Session of the Legislature, 1975. We affirm.
It's hard to imagine today's Alabama Supreme Court siding with regular citizens over powerful interests. So why did the 1977 high court affirm the lower court's ruling? Here is the gist of the issues:
The plaintiff's original complaint, which he filed in the capacity of a citizen and taxpayer, sought declaratory and injunctive relief against the state's fiscal authorities on the ground that the Act contravened Section 98 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901, which provides:
"The legislature shall not retire any officer on pay, or part pay, or make any grant to such retiring officer."
Thereafter, the complaint was amended to allege that Act 343 also violated Section 68 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901 "and also on the general constitutional principle that legislatures can not [sic] appropriate money for gratuities for private purposes."
As a state senator, John Baker could not be called a "common man." But he stood up for the common men (and women) of Alabama and won resounding court victories that likely would not be possible in our corruption-saturated environment of today. (Can you imagine the Alabama Supreme Court of 2017 issuing any ruling that would deny state funds to Bob Riley and his son, Rob "Uday" Riley?)
Citizens should start a petition to get schools and other buildings named for John Baker. He reminds us that the rule of law -- and the notion that taxpayer dollars should be spent with care -- once mattered in Alabama.