By Peter Szekely
(Reuters) - Alabama Governor Robert Bentley on Friday asked a court to halt impeachment proceedings after an ethics panel found he probably violated ethics and campaign finance laws, an escalation of the political fallout from his relationship with a former adviser.
With a state legislative committee set to start proceedings next week that could remove Bentley from office, his lawyers went to state court in Montgomery to stop the process. Bentley has denied any wrongdoing.
His lawyers also asked the court to block Friday's scheduled release of a second report that would lay out impeachment evidence for lawmakers.
The second-term Republican governor's request for an emergency court order claims his constitutional right to due process was violated in part because he was not allowed to cross-examine witnesses against him. The motion also said the governor was given insufficient notice and that the charges were vague.
The judiciary committee of the Alabama House of Representatives plans to begin its impeachment process on Monday. The panel's process would lead to a recommendation to the full House on whether to impeach.
Bentley remained defiant at news conference on Thursday.
"Once again, let me say, I do not plan to resign," he told reporters without taking questions. "I have done nothing illegal. If the people want to know if I misused state resources, the answer is simply no, I have not."
In a statement that frequently invoked his religious faith, Bentley also apologized to his constituents for unspecified past mistakes, saying, "There's no doubt that I have let you down."
In its first report, the Alabama Ethics Commission on Wednesday found that Bentley probably violated ethics and campaign finance laws, a ruling that could result in criminal charges. The commission declined to disclose its evidence because it was referring its findings to the Montgomery district attorney.
The panel found that Bentley had accepted a contribution and made a loan to his campaign outside the legal time frame, and that he used campaign funds to pay the legal fees of former senior adviser Rebekah Mason, local media reported.
Bentley also may have violated ethics law by using public resources for his personal interest.
Bentley's troubles began last year when recordings surfaced of him making suggestive remarks to 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.
After allegations of the scandal broke, Mason resigned as questions about the pair's relationship began to dominate Alabama politics.
(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Leslie Adler)