COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s top prosecutor said Tuesday that he is pursuing a variety of challenges to a judge’s dismissal of corruption allegations against House Speaker Bobby Harrell, including a possible request that the judge reconsider his ruling.
“All we want to do is to get the information to a conclusion so that everybody … can be happy or mad with the result,” Attorney General Alan Wilson told The Associated Press.
The State Grand Jury had been considering whether Harrell, a powerful Charleston Republican, should be indicted on allegations that he used his influence for personal benefit, including obtaining a permit for his pharmaceutical business and appointing his brother to a judicial candidate screening committee.
Ashley Landess of the South Carolina Policy Council, a libertarian-leaning think tank, brought the allegations to Wilson. The Republican prosecutor forwarded the matter to the State Law Enforcement Division and had been in the process of presenting those secret findings to the State Grand Jury.
But on Monday, Circuit Judge Casey Manning ruled that process had been improper from the start, saying that only a legislative panel – which is only empowered to handle civil matters – could initially consider allegations against a lawmaker. Only after that panel has acted can state prosecutors become involved, Manning wrote, adding that Wilson hadn’t made a strong enough argument criminal acts had even occurred.
“The allegations of the citizen’s complaint giving rise to this investigation were conclusively within the Ethics Code,” Manning wrote. “Despite multiple requests, the Attorney General has failed to offer or present to the Court any evidence or allegations which are criminal in nature.”
On Tuesday, Wilson vehemently disagreed with that stance, pointing out that nowhere in his order did Manning mention the fact that state police, at Wilson’s behest, had done a 10-month investigation, the results of which were being presented to grand jurors.
“It’s a poorly written order,” Wilson said, adding that Manning’s ruling hampers his ability to perform his prosecutorial duties. “The judge never once addressed any issue that we raised. It was all one-sided.”
Wilson said he is appealing the order and plans to ask Manning to reconsider his ruling, particularly the portion saying prosecutors presented no criminal allegations. Other options he could pursue include taking the case to the House Ethics Committee or bring it before a county grand jury.
In a lengthy statement issued Monday night, Harrell decried Wilson’s actions as “politically motivated.” The speaker repeated that sentiment Tuesday when questioned about Wilson’s assertion the investigation would move forward.
“The attorney general’s statement today that he will defy a court order is proof that he’s just playing politics,” Harrell said. “The court has given an order which is the law of the land. If this was about anything other than politics, the attorney general would obey the law.”
Landess has repeatedly said that her complaint was criminal in nature, also calling it improper for a panel of fellow legislators to be the only body deemed worthy of holding a fellow lawmaker accountable. Wilson agreed Tuesday, saying the order appears to condone holding lawmakers to a different legal standard.
“Nobody else in the state has this unique power to control a committee like this,” Wilson said, also denying any political motivation behind his decisions. “No one should be above the law.”