MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The future of former ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier's lawsuit against former Gov. Robert Bentley was the subject of a nearly two hour hearing Monday.
Collier filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Bentley in April of 2016, outlining his ouster, orders to lie to the Attorney General, and the influence Rebekah Mason had over in his termination. Bentley's attorneys requested Monday's hearing to argue to dismiss the lawsuit. While other matters were argued in the hearing, the issue of immunity was a key topic. State officials are covered by immunity from lawsuits over actions connected to the scope of their official duties.
In this case, Collier is suing Bentley in his personal capacity, and Collier's attorney, Kenny Mendelson alleges Bentley acted outside the scope of his office when firing Collier, which isn't covered by immunity. Mendelson says that protection doesn't protect the former governor because he acted illegally and abused the power of his office.
As Bentley's attorney, John Neiman, made initial arguments to dismiss, Judge Greg Griffin asked Neiman specific questions about the extent of sovereign immunity, stating, "Can a statewide officer do no wrong?" Neiman responded stating the immunity protected Bentley from a money damages claim. Neiman added the governor has the authority to hire and fire any of his cabinet members, and despite the alleged affair, Bentley was acting in the scope of Governor at the time of Collier's termination.
Mendelson argued that Collier was terminated because Bentley wanted him to lie to the Attorney General about the disposition of an investigation connected to the prosecution of former House Speaker Mike Hubbard. When Collier told the truth, and signed an affidavit, that prompted his firing, which was outside the scope of the former governor's authority. Mendelson also stated an investigation into Collier was launched following his ouster, which was a needless attempt to dredge up dirt about the former ALEA Secretary, citing those actions a personal attempt to ruin Collier's name.
Bentley's attorneys also stated another lawsuit filed against the former governor was dismissed, but Mendelson described the facts of Ray Lewis' case as very different from Collier's.
Near the end of the hearing, Griffin asked Bentley's attorneys when was an elected official not covered by immunity. It was suggested perhaps he wasn't covered on vacation, but that was followed by Griffin stating an elected official is always representing the state.
Griffin asked the attorneys to submit proposed orders on whether to dismiss the case by Wednesday, and he would make a ruling no later than Friday at noon.
The State of Alabama is still footing the bill for Bentley's legal fees, despite his resignation. Attorneys were hired for all the cases filed against Bentley before he left office through legal contracts. State law allows for state officers to continue to be represented in these claims, even after they are separated from their position.
Open records requests filed by WSFA confirm those legal contracts awarded before Bentley left office added up to more than half a million dollars. It's unclear if any additional contracts have been awarded since Bentley left office, or how much funding has been spent altogether.