Alabama continues to pay former Gov. Bentley’s legal bills

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - April 11, 2019 at 3:24 PM CDT - Updated April 11 at 7:52 PM

Two years ago Alabama made national headlines as then-Governor Robert Bentley pleaded guilty to criminal charges and tendered his resignation.

Despite the time that's passed, Alabama taxpayers are still footing his legal bills for multiple lawsuits on issues that date back to his time in office, and there's no sign that practice will end anytime soon.

The General Liability Trust Fund is an extra benefit for state employees. It’s a state trust that provides legal protection for job-related lawsuits. It’s managed by the State Department of Finance and bankrolled by taxpayers.

In fact, the state’s legally required to provide this defense - even for a former governor who bowed out of office on less-than-desirable terms.

Starting in the final months of Bentley's administration, a string of wrongful termination claims were filed independently by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier, former ALEA employees Ray Lewis and Camilla Gibson and former finance employee James Nolin.

There was also a lawsuit filed by State Auditor Jim Zeigler to force Bentley to schedule an election to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by then-Senator Jeff Sessions. Bentley appointed former Attorney General Luther Strange to fill the position.

Bentley, along other state employees named as defendants in those lawsuits, receives a state-funded civil defense.

The cases filed by Lewis and Zeigler were dismissed in Montgomery Circuit Court in 2017. The lawsuits filed by Collier, Gibson and Nolin remain active.

WSFA requested an interview with the Department of Finance to discuss limitations of a civil defense. Our request was denied, instead the department gave written information about the fund.

We followed with an open records request for total legal fees and expenses paid for each defendant in five lawsuits and fees related to impeachment proceedings. This adds up to nearly 20 legal contracts.

The department responded with payments for only one defendant, Robert Bentley, on four of the six cases requested. The total of the four claims: $201,506.66.

Collier's lawsuit: $130,173.01
Lewis' lawsuit: $14,055.89
Nolin's lawsuit: $24,962.64
Gibson’s lawsuit: $32,315.12

In 2017 we received stacks of legal invoices for some of the lawsuits in question through an open records request with the department. In one of those documents for Ray Lewis' case dated March 22, 2017 it shows $30,762.57 had been paid for legal services. We contacted the finance department about the difference but our question wasn't answered.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s Office confirms they are legally obligated to provide this defense.

“In this case, the Governor’s Office has not been presented with any settlement offer through the defendant’s counsel," stated Lori Jhons, Deputy Press Secretary for Ivey. “Therefore, the governor must continue to review and approve the legal bills.”

At this point, Collier’s lawsuit, which has the biggest known payout to date, appears to be headed for trial in Montgomery Circuit Court. The case has been litigated for three years this month with no apparent end in sight.

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