The S.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday set oral arguments in the high-profile dispute between Attorney General Alan Wilson and his special prosecutor David Pascoe for June 16.
At issue before the high court will be whether Wilson has the authority to remove Pascoe from an investigation into alleged public corruption in the General Assembly, an investigation that possibly involves political allies of Wilson’s.
The Supreme Court’s decision ended almost two months of speculation about what action the high court would take in the historic clash between Wilson and his special prosecutor. Some had speculated that the high court might issue an opinion in the matter without having oral arguments.
In late March, Pascoe filed two actions in the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, alleging that Wilson was trying to impede Pascoe’s investigation into the General Assembly just as Pascoe and State Law Enforcement Division chief Mark Keel were activating a State Grand Jury, with its special investigative powers.
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Saying he was trying to stop Wilson from blocking the investigation, Pascoe asked the high court to rule on whether Wilson had the authority to remove Pascoe as special prosecutor after hand-picking him to investigate public corruption. Last year, Wilson and his office, citing unnamed conflicts of interest, recused themselves from the investigation and handed the matter off to Pascoe.
Wilson has said Pascoe isn’t authorized to empanel a State Grand Jury, that under state law, only the attorney general, in tandem with the SLED chief, can do that. He said his office tried to communicate that to Pascoe but Pascoe didn’t respond. So he moved to protect the integrity of the attorney general’s office, he said.
In April, The State newspaper, citing redacted pages from a SLED report, disclosed that a potential subject of Pascoe’s investigation was Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, a close political ally of Wilson’s. Earlier, The State had disclosed that another potential subject was Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, a top Republican.
In setting oral arguments for June 16, the Supreme Court – whether by coincidence or not – avoided bringing attention to Pascoe’s investigation into public corruption in the General Assembly until after the June 14 Republican primaries. Quinn has opposition for his seat, but Merrill does not.
In choosing a June date, the Supreme Court also avoided having the argument before next Wednesday, when Associate Justice Don Beatty is slated to be elected to the high court’s chief justice post for the next seven years. That day, Associate Justice John Few is expected to be elected to a full 10-year associate justice term. Both are running unopposed.
The dispute between Pascoe and Wilson has been marked by Wilson’s angry public denunciation of Pascoe, saying – without offering specific evidence – that Pascoe had “tainted” the investigation. A top aide of Wilson’s was also caught trying to initiate a smear campaign to discredit Pascoe personally and professionally.
Jay Bender, an attorney for The State newspaper who in April asked the S.C. Supreme Court on behalf of the newspaper to make public all documents in the Pascoe-Wilson dispute, said Wednesday he was pleased with the court’s decision to set oral arguments.
“It’s terrific news,” Bender said. “Typically in South Carolina, if public officials have a dispute, the resolution is behind closed doors, in secret. One never knows what the issues have been or what the resolution is.”