State Supreme Court sides with AG in dispute with House speaker

July 9, 2014 

— South Carolina’s Supreme Court Wednesday dealt a blow to S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, granting Attorney General Alan Wilson’s request to overturn a lower court ruling and allow a State Grand Jury probe of Harrell to continue.

Still up in the air, according to the opinion, is the question of whether Wilson can continue participating in the State Grand Jury proceedings.

The court sent the case back to the circuit court to decide whether the attorney general should be disqualified.

Last month, Harrell’s attorney said if they lost the decision, they would ask Manning to disqualify Wilson from the investigation. Harrell has said that Wilson’s investigation is politically motivated. His camp has accused Wilson of trying to bully the speaker into passing a law creating a unit to investigate public corruption cases. Wilson has denied the allegation.

A statement from Harrell is expected later today, said Greg Foster, Harrell’s spokesman.

"The Attorney General's Office is not commenting at this time," said Mark Powell, Wilson's spokesman.

Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning said in his earlier ruling that he had seen no evidence from Wilson that Harrell might have committed a criminal violation - the purpose of the State Grand Jury investigation. He said the allegations against Harrell could be civil violations and would need to go before the House Ethics Committee, which can discipline representatives.

Manning had agreed originally to impanel the State Grand Jury in January after reading a petition signed by Wilson and State Law Enforcement Division chief Mark Keel.

Harrell’s attorneys say that Manning had the right to check the progress of the State Grand Jury investigation and stop the proceedings if warranted.

Supreme Court justices, especially the two who previously were members of the S.C. House, asked state prosecutors during oral arguments last month why Manning should not call off the State Grand Jury probe. They pressed Wilson’s attorneys if the attorney general had proven criminal intent in Harrell’s actions, making them legitimate fodder for the State Grand Jury.

Wilson’s office said it wanted to give the State Grand Jury time to complete the investigation and avoid delays of “mini-trails” seeking legal clarification of issues. The attorney general’s office said it also can consider any violation of state ethics laws as a possible crime.

Harrell’s attorneys said they are concerned the attorney general will try to bypass the House Ethics Committee more frequently in the future, using the argument that any ethics violation could be criminal.

Harrell has not been charged with a crime or civil ethics violation.

SLED spent 10 months compiling a report about its investigation into allegations that Harrell had spent campaign money on his private plane, used his House office to help his pharmaceutical business and appointed his brother to a panel that reviews candidates who want to be judges.

After receiving SLED’s report, Wilson announced the State Grand Jury would investigate the allegations. It is unclear if Manning has read the SLED report.

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