By Colleen Jenkins and Letitia Stein
(Reuters) - Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said on Thursday he would not resign after the state's ethics commission found probable cause that he violated ethics and campaign finance laws, a ruling that could result in criminal charges.
The second-term Republican governor faces a hearing in separate proceedings on Monday that could lead to his eventual impeachment and ouster.
The probable cause findings by the Alabama Ethics Commission prompted Republican Del Marsh, the leader of the state Senate, to call on Bentley to step down, local media reported. Marsh said the governor was not able to lead effectively.
Bentley faces escalating political fallout over his relationship with a former senior adviser and has been dogged for the past year by questions concerning his potentially inappropriate use of state resources.
Asked for a response to Marsh's comments, Bentley said in a statement: "I have no intentions of resigning and I am looking forward to continuing to work on important issues facing the state."
The Alabama House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee will begin the impeachment process on Monday, said its chairman, Representative Mike Jones.
"It’s time to put this in front of us, let’s address it, and let’s get it behind us," Jones said on the floor of the House on Thursday.
The committee will make a recommendation to the full House on whether to impeach Bentley.
The judiciary committee has been conducting its own investigation apart from the ethics commission and plans to issue a report on Friday.
Bentley denies any legal wrongdoing.
"We think there is not a basis that the governor violated any law," his lawyer, Bill Athanas, told reporters Wednesday night. "So the battle goes on."
After allegations of a scandal broke last year, Bentley apologized for making inappropriate remarks to married staffer Rebekah Mason, while denying allegations of a physical affair. Mason resigned as questions about the pair's relationship began to dominate Alabama politics.
Bentley's wife filed for divorce in August 2015 after 50 years of marriage, citing unspecified problems.
Local media said the ethics commission found probable cause that Bentley violated state campaign regulations by accepting a contribution and making a loan to his campaign outside the time frame permitted by law and using campaign funds to pay Mason’s legal fees. He also may have violated ethics law by using public resources for his personal interest.
If charged with breaking Alabama's ethics or campaign finance laws, Bentley could 20 years in prison per violation, the commission said.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein and Colleen Jenkins; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Trott)