Alabama’s Disgraced Governor Bentley Accused of Defamation

Former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (CN) — Alabama’s disgraced former governor Robert Bentley conspired with other state employees to defame a former finance official who was tasked with finding and delivering Bentley’s emails in response to a subpoena, the former official said in a lawsuit Tuesday.

James Nolin, who was chief information officer for the Alabama Department of Finance in 2016, also sued former Secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Stan Stabler and agency attorney Michael Robinson, in Montgomery County Court. He seeks punitive damages on nine counts, including privacy invasion, outrage, retaliation, recklessness, abuse of process and intentional interference with business relations. He also sued nine “fictitious defendants,” A-I.

Bentley resigned in April 2017 and was charged with violating campaign finance law by using state resources to facilitate and conceal an extramarital affair with a staffer. In a plea deal, he agreed never to seek public office in Alabama again. He was succeeded by Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey.

Nolin was appointed chief information officer in the state Department of Finance on Feb. 9, 2016. In that capacity, he became a voting member of Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center Commission (ACJIC). At the time, the Department of Finance was in charge of the state’s information technology system.

According to his complaint, Nolin improved the state’s troubled IT system “without incident, until he was tasked with the duty to locate and provide then Governor Bentley’s emails pursuant to a lawful subpoena.”

The complaint continues:  “After Nolin produced the emails, the defendants set out to destroy Nolin’s reputation and credibility as a potential witness against Bentley and to further cover up Bentley’s criminal and unethical conduct related to his affair with Rebekah Mason.”

Using taxpayer money, Nolin says, “Defendants Stabler, Robinson and the fictitious defendants had a pattern and practice of assisting Bentley in falsely accusing innocent people of crimes in an attempt to discredit them as potential witnesses against Bentley; to help Bentley cover up his affair with Rebekah Mason; and to cover up Bentley’s criminal and unethical conduct.”

Nolin describes their conduct as blatantly false: “As a part of the scheme to hurt Nolin, the defendants falsely accused Nolin of crimes related to accessing information from ACJIC even though as the chief IT officer who oversaw the state’s IT system, including ACJIC’s data base and as a voting member of ACJIC, he had the authority to do so.”

A member of the state House — like Bentley, a Republican — filed an impeachment resolution against the governor on April 5, 2016, in relation to his sexual affair, which Bentley denied at the time. The state House Judiciary Committee appointed a special counsel for the impeachment investigation on July 7, 2016, and on April 5, 2017 the state Ethics Commission found probable cause that Bentley had violated ethics and campaign finance law. He resigned five days later.

Meanwhile, Nolin claims, Bentley and his henchmen launched a defamatory assault upon him through smoke and mirrors. He says Bentley wrote to the FBI on June 10, 2016, falsely accusing him of crimes, “even though the FBI had recently completed an audit and did not find any criminal violations by Nolin or anyone else.”

He says the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency “orchestrated a raid” on the Department of Finance, to create “the appearance that a serious crime had been committed.”

Bentley fired him on June 17, 2016, though he lacked authority to do so — it lay with the acting director of finance, Nolin says. One week later, on June 24, 2016, Stabler misinformed the public that the FBI was auditing Nolin, to “destroy” his “excellent reputation,” according to the complaint.

It adds: “There was no legitimate or bona fide law enforcement or state purpose in conducting the raid; interrogating Nolin; contacting the FBI; or falsely accusing Nolin of crimes.”

To top it off, Nolin says: “On October 4, 2017, Governor Kay Ivey wrote Nolin a letter in which she apologized to Nolin ‘on behalf of the Governor’s Office and the People of Alabama for the difficulties he endured throughout this ordeal and as a result of the unwarranted negative publicity.’”

Nolin says the conspiracy “irreparably damaged” his reputation, and left him unable to find work unless he travels out of state.

He seeks compensatory and punitive damage, including legal fees. His lead attorney is

Kenneth Mendelsohn, with Jemison & Mendelsohn assisted by Andrew Skier, all of Montgomery.

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