MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Montgomery Circuit Judge Greg Griffin has granted Gov. Robert Bentley's request for a temporary restraining order against the House Judiciary Committee.
The governor's general counsel argued that injunction relief was necessary to halt the "continued violation of Governor Bentley's constitutional due process rights."
Griffin issued a show cause order for May 15, which, barring a successful appeal, now freezes any hearings, proceedings, proposals or witnesses regarding a Bentley impeachment until that date.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Jones said the committee has filed a notice of appeal and is seeking expedited action from the Alabama Supreme Court to overturn the order.
State Rep. Ed Henry said Friday night if the judiciary committee doesn't resume impeachment hearings by Tuesday, he will introduce a rule change to bypass the committee and have a vote on impeachment as early as Thursday.
The House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to begin impeachment hearings Monday morning. The temporary restraining order will prevent the committee from proceeding with the hearings, but a spokesperson for the committee confirmed Friday night the committee will still meet as scheduled Monday to discuss Friday's events.
HJC special counsel Jack Sharman said the separation of powers prevented the judicial branch from getting involved, but an attorney for the governor appealed to the judge's emotions saying "they just want you to roll over and do nothing." Griffin said he wasn't going to do that and immediately issued his order.
"We appreciate the Court's consideration of this serious case and are gratified by the result," said Ross Garber, attorney for the governor. "The Rule of Law applies. Even in the Legislature. Even in Impeachments. We will review today's document dump – which appears to be an amalgam of hearsay, rumor and innuendo. I continue to have confidence that there will ultimately be fairness and due process in this matter."
While Griffin, the third judge of the day assigned to consider Bentley's request for the temporary restraining order, was hearing arguments, the impeachment committee made good on a promise to release its investigation report. A House spokesperson said it would be out by 5 p.m., and it was released around 3:30 p.m. Griffin made mention from the bench that he'd learned the report had been released.
The request for the temporary restraining order was initially given to Montgomery Circuit Judge James Anderson, who immediately recused himself, citing conflicts of interest from his past law practice.
The case was then assigned to Judge Roman Shaul, a Bentley appointee, who listened as the governor's legal team fought for a temporary injunction against the committee, seeking to prevent it from making recommendations concerning impeachment or conducting any proceedings that don't afford the governor due process of law.
Shaul stated that it was his inclination to not restrain the report from being released but said he was troubled that someone would be forced to defend something in such a short amount of time. He told the attorneys before recess that they'd planned out his afternoon and that he was going to determine if he has jurisdiction before making any further rulings. Shaul never returned to rule on the case.
He instead sought advisement from the Judicial Inquiry Commission on potential conflicts of interest. The JIC returned saying Shaul's appointment by Bentley in January was an unwaivable, conflict and that his recusal was required.
Court documents show the case was reassigned to a third judge, Griffin, who heard arguments from both sides before making his ruling. Griffin was also appointed by Bentley, though he since won an election outright to the seat,
Before the hearings Friday, Bentley held a hastily-called news conference on the capitol steps to address the public and ask for forgiveness. While he admitted that he had made mistakes, he said he has no plans to resign.
On Wednesday, the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause that the governor broke state ethics and campaign finance laws and referred their findings to the Montgomery County district attorney's office for possible prosecution.
Bentley has maintained he has done nothing illegal or of the level worthy of impeachment.