Lawsuit against former Gov. Bentley settled for more than half a million dollars

Lawsuit against former Gov. Bentley settled

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The three-year legal fight between former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier and former Gov. Robert Bentley is over.

Collier’s attorney, Kenny Mendelson, confirmed Wednesday the case has been settled. Due to a requested confidentiality agreement, Mendelson said he couldn’t disclose the amount of the settlement.

Bentley’s attorney, John Neiman, also confirmed the settlement and the confidentiality agreement.

“The settlement does not represent an admission of liability or wrongdoing by anyone involved, and my clients continue to deny the allegations made against them,” Neiman said in an email Wednesday.

According to documents related to a bankruptcy filing, the case was settled for more than half a million dollars. It’s unclear whether the total judgement was paid out of the state’s General Liability Trust Fund, other state funds or whether private money was also involved.

A recent WSFA investigation revealed Alabama taxpayers continue to pay Bentley’s legal fees in multiple civil cases, including the claim filed by Collier.

Following that story, additional information provided by the Department of Finance revealed $331,866.22 has been paid by the state to cover legal fees for Bentley and former ALEA Secretary Stan Stabler in Collier’s complaint.

Following our most recent open records request in April, more than a million dollars of taxpayer funds had been paid out for legal fees in civil cases filed against Bentley and other named co-defendants who were also state employees, including the costly impeachment investigation.

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Collier filed suit in April 2016 after Bentley terminated him for reportedly signing affidavits connected to the prosecution of former House Speaker Mike Hubbard — something Collier says Bentley discouraged him from doing.

Following Collier’s termination, he held a news conference, rolling back the curtain on a rumored affair between Bentley and former aid Rebekah Mason.

“I told the whole story,” Collier said to WSFA during an interview in 2017. “I wanted people to know two things: He fired me or she told him to fire me over those affidavits, and he inserted himself into a criminal case.”

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, Bentley said the misappropriation of state funds was the reason for Collier’s termination.

Collier denied those claims and pointed to a then-recent audit by the State Department of Examiners of Public Accounts, which showed no discrepancies.

In October 2016 the allegations against Collier were put before a Montgomery County grand jury, which found no wrongdoing. Then-Attorney General Luther Strange issued a statement following the grand jury proceeding.

"In the course of the investigation, no witness provided credible evidence of criminal ‘misuse of state funds,’” Strange stated in a written statement. “No witness provided credible evidence of any other criminal violation on the part of former Secretary Collier. Finally, no witness established a credible basis for the initiation of a criminal inquiry in the first place.”

Bentley’s counsel argued to dismiss Collier’s case on the basis that the governor was protected by sovereign immunity from the claims. Mendelsohn argued Bentley acted outside the scope of his authority in firing Collier and damaged his reputation over claims of financial misappropriation at ALEA.

In 2016, Articles of Impeachment were filed against Bentley, however the process was delayed at the request of the former Attorney General.

In February 2017, a WSFA investigation discovered Bentley used campaign donations to fund his former aid’s legal fees, a clear violation of the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

The Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause that Bentley violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act in April 2017 and referred the charges to a prosecutor.

Days later, the House Judiciary Committee released scathing findings from Bentley’s impeachment investigation which also addressed claims made by Collier in the lawsuit.

Impeachment proceedings began on April 10, 2017. That afternoon Bentley appeared in court and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors involving the illegal use of campaign funds. Bentley left court and returned to the Capitol, publicly resigning from office.

Months after Bentley's ouster, Montgomery Circuit Judge Greg Griffin dismissed the two wrongful termination claims in the lawsuit, stating Bentley was granted absolute immunity. However the Court left seven other tort claims in place, including three counts of invasion of privacy, three counts of defamation and one count of conspiracy.

Bentley’s attorneys appealed that decision to the Alabama Supreme Court, which upheld Griffin’s ruling. Despite the remaining tort claims, the state continued to represent Bentley in the case following a lengthy schedule of depositions.

Prior to news of the settlement, it appeared the case was headed to trial in September.

Currently two other civil cases against Bentley remain open, filed by Camilla Gibson and James Nolin

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