Lawsuit against governor dismissed

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 28, 2008

MONTGOMERY – A judge has dismissed most of a lawsuit in which an indicted insurance executive accused Gov. Bob Riley and others of conspiring to drive him out of the insurance business.

Montgomery Circuit Judge Truman Hobbs Jr. rejected John Goff’s claims against Riley and former Lt. Gov. Steve Windom.

But the judge said Goff could continue with one part of the lawsuit involving state Insurance Commissioner Walter Bell, who was appointed by Riley.

A spokeswoman for the governor said the decision reinforced Riley’s position that the litigation was unfounded.

“The allegations made against the governor and his family were totally untrue and outlandish. We’re obviously pleased the court saw through them and dismissed them,” spokeswoman Tara Hutchison said.

Goff’s attorney, Tommy Gallion, said he had expected some parts of the lawsuit to be dismissed, but was pleased he could proceed with depositions and getting government records. “We are not disappointed at all,” he said.

He said the suit could be expanded later if the depositions and records are helpful.

Goff’s Montgomery-based company, the Goff Group, was once a major operator in the worker compensation insurance business.

Goff supported Riley in the 2002 governor’s race. But when his company’s fortunes declined in 2004, he blamed Riley, Windom and Bell for causing his problems by getting the Insurance Department to conduct a politically motivated investigation.

He sued them in March 2007. Then he was indicted by a federal grand jury in April on mail fraud, conspiracy and embezzlement charges. He is accused of fraudulently collecting worker compensation insurance premiums for two companies and not sending about $3 million to them. Goff has maintained his innocence.

In a ruling signed Tuesday, Hobbs dismissed some portions of the lawsuit in part because Goff waited beyond the state’s two-year statute of limitations to sue. The judge also rejected arguments that a conspiracy occurred.

The judge let stand one count in which Goff said Bell induced him to surrender his license to sell insurance in 2005 “by promising that he would not be prosecuted criminally, all the while intending to instigate a prosecution by federal authorities.”

The judge wrote that he has no idea if the claim is true, but if it is, “such conduct would offend this court’s sense of fair play and would fall below the standard of good faith inherent in any agreement.”

Ragan Ingram, spokesman for the state Insurance Department, said Bell was pleased with Hobb’s ruling, but would have no other comment until the case is completed.

Goff’s criminal case is scheduled for trial Jan. 5 in Montgomery.