By Ian Simpson
(Reuters) - Impeachment proceedings against Alabama Governor Robert Bentley can start next week, the state's Supreme Court ruled on Saturday, lifting a court order that had blocked hearings over his relationship with a former aide.
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.
Bentley, who is in his second term, is accused of using state resources for personal use. 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 that 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.
"This is a great day for the Constitution of Alabama," Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Jones said in a statement. The justices had found that "the Alabama legislature is free to conduct its business as prescribed in the state constitution," he added.
Bentley's legal team and a representative did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Supreme Court ordered briefs in the case to be submitted by 1 p.m. EDT on Monday.
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.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Richard Chang)