MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) – There is new information regarding the recently settled lawsuit against former Gov. Robert Bentley. On June 12, WSFA 12 News learned that Spencer Collier was awarded a $625,000 judgement in his 2016 case against Bentley. According to new information from Gov. Kay Ivey’s office, Alabama a taxpayers footed $525,000 of that settlement.
Federal court filings showed the case was settled for $625,000. However, it’s not uncommon for different streams of funding to come together to meet the final number. It’s unclear what party paid the remaining $100,000 of the settlement. WSFA 12 News’ open records request in April showed the state had paid $331,866.22 in legal fees for this case for Bentley, and co-defendants Stan Stabler and Michael Robinson. That amount plus the settlement adds up to nearly $1 million, which is the general cap for claims paid by the General Liability Trust Fund. The governor’s state-funded defense in this case was paid in part by the General Liability Trust Fund. This fund is touted as an extra benefit for covered state employees who are sued in their professional capacity.
In 2017, Montgomery Circuit Judge Greg Griffin dismissed two wrongful termination claims in the lawsuit, stating Bentley was granted absolute immunity as a constitutional officer. However, the court left seven other tort claims in place, including three counts of invasion of privacy, three counts of defamation and one count of conspiracy. Collier’s attorney argued Bentley acted outside the scope of his authority as governor with regard to those counts.
The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that constitutional officers can be sued in their individual capacities if it’s alleged that they had acted fraudulently, in bad faith or beyond their authority. Based on the nature of the remaining tort claims, WSFA 12 News asked the Governor’s Office if Bentley was entitled to his legal benefits through the trust fund. They responded that the guidelines clearly state that he is entitled to those benefits, citing Section 36-1-6.1(a) of the trust fund guidelines:
“ … coverage for deaths, injuries, or damages arising out of the negligent or wrongful acts or omissions committed by state employees or agents of the state…while in the performance of their official duties in the line and scope of their employment…”
Two other lawsuits against Bentley remain open. In April, more than $100,000 had been paid to defend Bentley in those cases.