Judge seals Alabama governor's divorce file from public view

AP News
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Posted: Aug 31, 2015 6:32 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A judge ordered Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley's divorce case to be sealed from public view Monday, and the governor told cabinet members that he would not let distractions get in the way of his push for budget and policy changes.

Tuscaloosa Circuit Judge Elizabeth Hamner issued the order to seal the file after the couple's attorneys filed a motion jointly requesting that the records be kept private.

"Defendant holds prominent office in the state of Alabama, and it would be in the parties' best interest that the public not be able to access the record in this divorce action," attorneys for the couple wrote in a joint motion. Sealing the file means that only the couple's attorneys, expert witnesses and court staff can view filings in the case.

Dianne Bentley filed for divorce Friday, saying the couple's long marriage had suffered an irretrievable breakdown. The couple, both 72, had their 50th wedding anniversary in July.

Kelly McTear, an assistant professor at Faulkner University's law school, said anyone in Alabama can ask a judge to have their divorce file sealed, but it is common request in marital splits involving high-profile people.

"It's certainly not unusual in these particular circumstances," McTear said.

She said the judge makes a determination if the request to keep the file private is warranted.

The governor has not publically addressed the divorce other than to issue a statement through his press office requesting privacy for his family.

Bentley told cabinet members on Monday that he would not be distracted from what he sees as the mission of his governorship.

"There are distractions that come our way. We get shot at," Bentley told cabinet members. "We can't lose focus I'm not going to lose focus."

The governor's divorce dominated headlines and talk radio after the surprise filing.

"Plaintiff states that there is such a complete incompatibility of temperament that the parties can no longer live together. That there exists a conflict of personalities which destroys the legitimate aims of matrimony and all possibilities of reconciliation are futile," attorney L. Stephen Wright Jr., an attorney for Dianne Bentley, wrote.

The attorney for the first lady also indicated in court filings that they intend to take the governor's deposition in November. The governor is represented in the divorce by Birmingham attorney Lisa L. Woods, according to court filings.

Amid personal and political challenges, the governor plans to call lawmakers into a second special session next month in another attempt to convince them to raise taxes and avoid deep cuts to government services. Lawmakers rejected Bentley's tax proposals in the regular session and in the first special session.

The governor said he was hanging on to the tax proposals "like a bulldog" because it is "important to the people of this state."

Bentley, 72, discussed the upcoming special session in the brief 30-minute cabinet meeting, but also veered into the personal. The governor, a dermatologist, said he had felt tired and "dying" as his medical career wound down, but felt a renewed purpose with his election in 2010.

"I believe in my heart I was placed here to do a job," Bentley said.

The divorce filing said the couple separated in January. However, state records show they continued to travel and make public appearances together.

Dianne Bentley signed the divorce papers on Wednesday, and they were filed in Tuscaloosa shortly before 9:30 a.m. Friday. Thirty minutes later, the Bentleys made a joint appearance with college and university mascots at College Colors Day.