Auditor to sue Bentley, Strange over Senate appointment
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s state auditor told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he plans to sue Gov. Robert Bentley for his intent to wait until 2018 to hold the election for Jeff Sessions’ former U.S. Senate seat.
Bentley’s appointment of former state Attorney General Luther Strange to the U.S. Senate should have required a special election be held for the seat under Alabama law, Auditor Jim Zeigler said.
“The whole thing stinks,” Zeigler told The AP. “We’ve got a Bentley appointed senator instead of a peoples’ elected senator.”
A draft of the lawsuit, which Ziegler said will be formally announced and filed Monday, names Bentley and Strange as defendants. It cites state laws that require a special election date to be set without delay if a U.S. Senate seat becomes vacant more than four months prior to the next regular election, which would be in 2018.
Strange is to serve until an election is held to fill the seat for the remainder of Sessions’ term, which ends in January of 2020. Bentley has said that seat will be filled as part of the general election in 2018.
The governor’s office has said it believes authorities are correctly interpreting the state law and also cited a federal judge’s ruling that would require a longer window of election notice.
Strange’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The appointment of Strange to the Senate has been marred by accusations that, as attorney general, Strange had requested a pause in a House committee’s impeachment probe of the governor months before his Senate appointment. The former attorney general had said at the time that his office was pursuing “related work” involving the investigation but never clarified what that meant.
Strange has defended his decision to pause the impeachment investigation, saying a Nov. 3 letter to the Alabama House committee was sent “before there was even a presidential election.” It was President Donald Trump’s victory that led to the Senate vacancy when Sessions was confirmed as U.S. attorney general.
The Alabama House Judiciary Committee began the investigation last year after Bentley’s former law enforcement secretary accused Bentley of having an affair with a staffer and interfering in law enforcement business. Bentley acknowledged making personal mistakes, but denied having a sexual affair or committing any impeachable offense. Lawmakers have expressed different views on whether the House probe was warranted.
Zeigler is a frequent Bentley critic who has filed many unsuccessful lawsuits against the administration over contracts. He also has petitioned the House committee to restart the impeachment probe.
Committee Chairman Mike Jones told members last week that he expected the body to resume the investigation and issue a report on whether the governor committed any impeachable offenses before the end of the legislative session.
The Senate Judiciary Committee at the same time readied itself for possible impeachment proceedings last week; setting up a subcommittee to draft trial procedures should the House vote to remove Bentley from office.
The Legislative Black Caucus also has criticized the timing of the Senate appointment and said it is considering a lawsuit to force a special election.