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Alabama Supreme Court allows impeachment of governor to proceed

(Reuters) - The Alabama Supreme Court ruled on Saturday that impeachment proceedings against Governor Robert Bentley can start next week, halting a court order that had blocked hearings stemming from his relationship with a former aide.

FILE PHOTO - Alabama Governor Robert Bentley speaks during a news conference in Mobile, Alabama July 2, 2012. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Bentley, a 74-year-old Republican, has battled impeachment efforts over the last year and has defied calls from political leaders that he stand down.

The 7-0 decision by the high court allows impeachment proceedings to begin in the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee on Monday even as justices consider new filings in the case.

Bentley, who is in his second term, is accused of inappropriate use of state resources. His troubles began last year when recordings surfaced of him making suggestive remarks to a former adviser, Rebekah Mason, before his wife of 50 years filed for divorce in August 2015.

Bentley has denied having a physical affair with Mason, who

is married. She resigned as questions about the pair’s

relationship began to dominate Alabama politics.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court stayed a temporary restraining order issued by a circuit court judge on Friday. The order had halted the impeachment process until hearings could be held on Bentley’s claim that lawmakers did not give enough time to present an adequate defense.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Jones hailed the decision, saying in a statement, “This is a great day for the Constitution of Alabama.”

The Judiciary Committee will make a recommendation to the full House on whether to impeach Bentley.

Ross Garber, an attorney for Bentley, said his legal team would submit briefs to the Supreme Court by 1 p.m. CDT on Monday, the deadline set by the justices.

“It’s disappointing to hear the Committee will plow forward while the Supreme Court is considering the case,” he said in a statement.

A state court on Friday had rejected Bentley’s

request to block the Judiciary Committee from releasing

evidence about wrongdoing stemming from his relationship with

Mason to be used for impeachment proceedings.

The committee’s report accused Bentley of ordering state law enforcement officers to track down copies of an embarrassing recording that suggested an affair with Mason. It also accused him of retaliating against an official who discovered the relationship.

On Wednesday, the Alabama Ethics Commission also found that Bentley probably violated ethics and campaign finance laws.

Bentley said after the ethics commission findings that he had no intention of resigning.

Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Richard Chang and Matthew Lewis