WAFF 48, other media outlets file motion to unseal Gov. Bentley's divorce records

WAFF 48, other media outlets file motion to unseal Gov. Bentley's divorce records

(WAFF) - WAFF 48 joined with several other Alabama media outlets Monday to file a motion to unseal court records related to Gov. Robert Bentley's divorce.

Bentley's wife, Dianne, filed for divorce on Aug. 28, citing "complete incompatibility of temperament" and an "irretrievable breakdown" in the marriage. The divorce record was sealed by Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge Elizabeth C. Hamner on Aug. 31. The Bentleys, both 72, have been married for 50 years and share four children and eight grandchildren.

The media outlets involved in the motion are requesting the documents be unsealed to see if there is any information of interest to the public. Specifically, whether there are any allegations of infidelity while the governor was on state business, whether there was any misuse of state funds or whether there was a misuse of Bentley's position as governor.

There are allegations that Gov. Bentley misused state property. Rep. Allen Farley has asked that Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange begin an investigation into Bentley's use of state property, primarily state aircraft.

The outlets filing the motion feel that the mere desire of the Bentleys to hold a private divorce proceeding is not sufficient reason to close the records to the public of the press. Because of their public status and the allegations made by Dianne Bentley, the divorce is not a "wholly private" case because it involves actions made by Dianne Bentley against her husband while both were in public office.

"The sealing of this case will harm the public and [media outlets] because it will encourage the spread of rumors and unsubstantiated allegations and deny responsible journalists authoritative sources for information," says the motion.

The Alabama Constitution states that "all courts shall be open..." and the Alabama Code establish that "every citizen has a right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state, except as expressly provided by statute."

There is no statute exempting divorce filings from the Open Records Act.

Dianne Bentley is asking for a fair and equitable division of all of their personal property, for alimony, for sole title to the property they own, and for Gov. Bentley to pay the debts they've incurred during their marriage, as well as her attorney costs.

The documents say the Bentleys have been separated since January 2015, the same month Gov. Bentley was sworn in for his second term as Alabama's governor.

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