COLUMBIA -- Ethicists, legal experts and legislative leaders say a pair of lawmakers would not be in violation of state law by influencing how state law enforcement does its business.
But some lawmakers, troubled by the hint of improper influence, argue the state's ethics laws might need to be revised.
The latest in an ongoing Department of Public Safety investigation of the state Highway Patrol centers on two incidents:
• Whether a state trooper acted improperly by signing off 10 DUI tickets over the course of three years before defendants went to trial, a violation of court procedure. Each person ticketed allegedly was being defended by state Sen. Brad Hutto, an Orangeburg Democrat and defense attorney.
The dismissals raise questions about whether Hutto's position as a state senator influenced the action.
Hutto said Friday he has never worked with a trooper to influence a case before it went to trial, has done nothing inappropriate and welcomes any investigation.
• A 2005 complaint accuses a high-ranking State Transport Police officer of ordering his officers to toss tickets issued to truckers traveling to or near a Lee County landfill, on the basis of an agreement with state Rep. Grady Brown, D-Lee.
Brown said he did nothing wrong. Republican House Speaker Bobby Harrell agrees, saying Brown acted as he should, in the interest of his district.
But ethicists warn such input can get in the way of agencies, especially law enforcement, being able to do their jobs.
Local legislator chimes in
Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, chairs the state's Senate Ethics Committee. Hayes said improper conduct between lawmakers and judges is clearly illegal.
However, Hayes said, those lines are less clear when lawmakers intervene with law enforcement on behalf of constituents.
"Advocating a position for a constituent is not so easy to define as to when you're interfering," Hayes said. "We may need to define where advocacy stops and interference begins."
--The (Columbia) State