The S.C. Supreme Court issued a two-pronged order on Thursday, making records public in the historic legal battle between special prosecutor David Pascoe and Attorney General Alan Wilson and also saying it will take up the case immediately.
In legal language, the high court said it would hear the case in “original jurisdiction,” which means that Pascoe and Wilson will not have their case kicked back to a lower court — an action that could trigger a long trial process followed by lengthy appeals that could take months or even years.
In a March 25 open filing, Pascoe had asked the Supreme Court to order Wilson to stop interfering with a SLED investigation into possible public corruption in the S.C. General Assembly. He asked that they take up the case in original jurisdiction. Wilson filed his reply April 8 under seal, so the public could not learn what was in it.
On April 1, lawyer Jay Bender wrote Chief Justice Costa Pleicones on behalf of The State newspaper, asking that the case be aired in public in keeping with the historic nature of open courts in South Carolina.
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“The court acknowledged the request by The State newspaper and ruled consistently with its history of opening proceedings and open records,” Bender said Thursday after reading the court’s ruling.
Bender said it’s probable but not certain that the court will hold an open hearing in which Wilson and Pascoe argue their positions and then make a decision. “But it may be that the court decides this in conference and then issues an order.”
“The court has now made it quite clear that this controversy is going to be resolved in public,” Bender said.
In a news release accompanying his sealed filing April 8, Wilson said he had no objection to opening the documents but wanted the court to decide whether the material should be secret or not.
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court decided to open our pleadings,” Wilson’s office said in a statement Thursday night.
Last July, Wilson and his office appointed Pascoe to be special prosecutor in a State Law Enforcement Division investigation involving alleged public corruption in the General Assembly.
In appointing Pascoe special prosecutor, Wilson and his office said the Attorney General had a conflict of interest in the case.
The State since has learned that among the people named as possible subjects of the SLED investigation are two people with political ties to Wilson — state Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, and his father, Richard Quinn, who owns the political consulting firm, Richard Quinn & Associates.
In recent weeks, as Pascoe and SLED Chief Mark Keel have moved to activate a state grand jury — which would give them enhanced investigative powers — but Jim Parks, the state grand jury clerk, refused to cooperate with Pascoe and Keel. Parks’ cooperation is essential to the functioning of the state grand jury investigative process.
Pascoe’s March 25 filing with the S.C. Supreme Court included a request for a writ of mandamus, in which he asked the high court to order Parks to cooperate with him and Keel.
In his filing, Pascoe argued that since Wilson and his office had recused themselves from the SLED investigation, they could not now step back in and shut down the investigation by ordering Parks not to cooperate.
Bender on Thursday evening saw a copy of Wilson’s reply and the order provided to him by a reporter for the WACH-FOX 57 television station, which initially broke the story later Thursday night.
As summarized by Bender, Wilson’s reply to Pascoe argues:
▪ That a solicitor such as Pascoe lacks the authority to bring a legal action against a state official such as Parks.
▪ That Wilson’s recusal from the case didn’t mean Wilson’s entire office was recused.
▪ That this is not the type of case in which the Supreme Court can issue a writ of mandamus ordering Parks to comply with Pascoe.
▪ That Wilson will be glad to activate a state grand jury to allow the investigation to continue but that he wants Pascoe kicked off the case and a new solicitor appointed.
Bender said a key question in the case is, “Is Pascoe acting as a solicitor, or is he acting as the attorney general, because the attorney general appointed him to be special prosecutor with respect to those people” with whom Wilson has a conflict.
“I’m not surprised this case will be taken up in original jurisdiction, because this is a momentous case,” said Bender.
“This case implicates all three branches of our government — the power of the executive branch, the potential misconduct of the Legislative branch, and the role of the judiciary in resolving disputes.”