April 1, 2015

Judge to rule next week on whether to remove Atty General from Harrell case

House Speaker Bobby Harrell (File)

House Speaker Bobby Harrell (File)

A circuit judge on Friday said he will consider whether to remove South Carolina’s top prosecutor from a case involving one of the state’s most powerful legislators.

Following a contentious hearing that included allegations of intimidation and character assassination, Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning said he expects to make a decision next week.

Manning earlier ruled that any court hearings involving the ethics case of House Speaker Bobby Harrell must be public. Harrell’s attorneys had sought the removal in a closed hearing, which Wilson protested. Both Wilson and Harrell are Republicans.

The ruling came as the State Grand Jury considers a possible indictment against Harrell over possible ethics violations. State Attorney General Alan Wilson turned over the findings from a State Law Enforcement Division investigation to the grand jury in January.

SC Attorney Gen. Alan Wilson (File)

SC Attorney Gen. Alan Wilson (File)

Several groups filed an ethics complaint against Harrell last year, claiming he misused campaign funds and used his position as Speaker of the House of Representatives to benefit a pharmaceutical business he owns. Harrell strongly denies any wrongdoing and claims the investigation is politically motivated (Wilson is running for reelection this year).

During Friday’s proceedings, Harrell’s aide Brad Wright testified that Wilson gave Wright an implicit threat against the speaker during a meeting last year. Wright said the Attorney General claimed he did not want to prosecute Harrell and hoped the investigation would not result in any prosecution. The staffer said the comment came after Harrell refused to support legislation that would have helped establish a public integrity unit Wilson wanted to investigate government fraud and corruption.

“I thought I was being asked to deliver a threat,” Wright said. He added the Speaker changed his position after the meeting.

But the attorney general strongly denied there was a quid pro quo. “I don’t play politics, I don’t play favorites,” Wilson said during part of his testimony, according to the Post & Courier. Under questioning from Wilson’s attorney, Wright admitted there had never been an explicit threat.

Judge Manning gave both sides through Wednesday to file briefs in the case.