- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Lawyers for Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley are telling an impeachment committee that only the most egregious offenses merit removal from office and a governor should not be impeached just because lawmakers “disapprove” of something the governor has done.

The governor’s office submitted the filing on the legal standard for impeachment to the House Judiciary Committee last week as the committee begins a probe on if there are grounds to impeach Bentley.

Twenty-three House members signed impeachment articles in April after Bentley’s former law enforcement secretary accused him of having an affair with a staffer and of interfering with law enforcement business. The governor admitted inappropriate conversations but denied the other accusations.

The governor’s attorneys are making a case that the standard for impeachment is high as the committee wades through a vague and rarely used impeachment process.

“Law and history make clear that impeachment is reserved for situations in which no lesser response will do, where the misconduct is so clear and so grave that no other remedy is adequate. It is not surprising that impeachment has been called the ‘political equivalent of capital punishment,’” lawyers for the governor wrote.

Only two governors have been removed from office in modern times - Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich - and both had been charged beforehand with criminal offenses, lawyers for the governor wrote. “A governor may not be impeached simply because the legislature disapproves of the governor’s actions,” the attorneys wrote.

The filing was submitted by Bentley Legal Advisor David Byrne and Ross Garber, a lawyer who was hired to represent the governor’s office during the proceedings.

The attorneys noted that unlike other states, under the Alabama Constitution, Bentley would automatically be removed from his duties if the House votes to impeach him. He could only be restored to his position if a trial in the Alabama Senate acquits him.

“Impeachment of a governor would overthrow the results of a democratically held election, negating the voters’ choice of a chief elected official,” the governor’s lawyers wrote.

The vaguely worded impeachment articles accuse the governor of corruption and neglect of duty but lay out no specific accusations against Bentley. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Jones has said a special counsel hired by the committee will largely determine the direction of the probe.

The last impeachment attempt in Alabama of a statewide official was in 1915 against the secretary of state. The 1901 Alabama Constitution says elected officials can be removed for offenses ranging from neglect of duty to intemperance, but gives only a general outline of the process.

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