In the coming months in Montgomery, there’s going to be a legal throwdown, and you’re paying for it. Just a few days ago, lawyers for the respective sides were chosen in the battle to impeach, and possibly indict, Gov. Robert Bentley over allegations he used the power and benefits of his office to facilitate his alleged affair with a former top aide, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
Those top-tier lawyers — one for Bentley and one for the committee considering his impeachment — will be getting paid what the governor’s office called a “discounted rate of $195 an hour” in taxpayer money. This will be an epic fight you’re already paying for, and one you won’t want to miss.
The House Judiciary Committee, the legislative body considering Bentley’s possible impeachment, will be represented by Birmingham-based attorney Jackson Sharman. Although a longtime member of the Alabama State Bar Association, Sharman is no stranger to the national legal scene.
A Harvard law graduate and partner at Lightfoot, Franklin and White, Sharman represented one of the U.S. House committees that investigated President Bill Clinton during the Whitewater scandal. Now he’ll be investigating another allegedly philandering politician, this time on Goat Hill.
But if you think a Clinton investigator is a high-profile pick for the Alabama House Judiciary Committee, just wait until you meet the Love Guv’s lawyer, Ross Garber. A University of Connecticut law graduate, Garber has been described as “unimpeachable,” and for good reason. He represents those on the edge of a political disaster — those you may not even care to remember. But I’ll remind you.
Because before there was Robert Bentley, there was Mark Sanford.
Years before Alabama’s doctor-governor offered to move his secretary’s desk so he and Mason could have a little more face time, then-Governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford disappeared with his mistress in her home country of Argentina.
Long before Gov. Bentley abandoned his protective detail to go backstage at a Las Vegas Céline Dion concert with his alleged mistress, Sanford had already perfected the craft of evading gubernatorial security. He’d told his protective detail (and his wife) he’d be hiking the Appalachian Trail in June 2009.
He was out of the state and out of contact, and definitely not on the Appalachian Trail, for over a week. He hadn’t even phoned his family on Father’s Day. A reporter ended up intercepting him at the airport when he touched down on a return flight from Argentina.
You’d think evading security was the stressful part for Bentley and Sanford, but that’s not what the former told Mason in one of his infamous recorded conversations. Evading security wasn’t stressful. Being a cheating governor wasn’t stressful. It was being guarded and coddled by staff that caused him stress.
“That’s why I’m stressing out ‘cause everybody’s around and I’ve had security guards everywhere I’m going … ” Bentley told Mason in one of the recordings.
It’s such a drag to be protected from assassination and driven around everywhere you go. Oh how we feel for Robert Bentley and Mark Sanford.
Months later, Sanford personally reimbursed the state for his taxpayer-funded, licentious liaison to Argentina. Bentley, on the other hand, had the Republican Governors’ Association reimburse his.
Ironically, neither Bentley nor Sanford have reimbursed the state for their everyday, cheater-friendly conveniences — such as Sanford’s use of a state plane to go get a haircut, or Bentley’s use of a state law enforcement helicopter to fly his wallet from his home in Tuscaloosa to Orange Beach after he left abruptly following a fight with former First Lady Dianne Bentley.
And their daily dalliances aren’t the only thing they now share. The lawyer who represented Sanford, Ross Garber, now represents Bentley in the impeachment proceedings.
Despite Sanford’s gloomy political situation, Garber was able to fight successfully to prevent an impeachment, winning the vote for then-Gov. Sanford 6 to 1.
Butch Bowers, who was Sanford’s personal attorney during those times, said Garber’s strategy wasn’t to make Sanford seem innocent — it was completely the opposite.
“By December of 2009, we’d demonstrated to [the Legislature] that the governor’s failings … were failings of the flesh, a personal and human weakness to which no human is completely immune, and that to attempt to topple a governor on that record would be unprecedented … and subject the state to ridicule. Ultimately, they blinked.”
Failures of the flesh. That’s what we’re supposed to hang our hats on. The governor’s not innocent, in fact he’s guilty, but only of “failures of the flesh.” As citizens footing the legal bill, we shouldn’t feel good about that.
Our Legislature shouldn’t blink, and neither should we. Garber’s is a lawyer’s argument if ever there’s been one, and Alabamians shouldn’t buy it.
Yes, they’re failures of the flesh — but they’re failures of a governor. Failures we shouldn’t be quick to forgive: especially when we’re still paying the price.
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