The South Carolina Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in favor of two students and statewide association of educators means that South Carolina will apply for $700 million in economic stimulus money.
For attorneys Dwight Drake and Dick Harpootlian, it is swift vindication. He and Drake have been criticized by the governor’s office for their backgrounds and motives: Harpootlian as a Democratic Party operative and Drake as a lobbyist for various interests, including video poker.
They represented Chapin High school student Casey Edwards, and University of South Carolina law school student Justin Williams in the first case argued Wednesday before the five-judge panel. According to Harpootlian, he and Drake devised this legal approach and then found Edwards through Bud Ferillo, a well-known Democratic strategist.
The state Supreme Court denied hearing the first filing of this suit because the grievance had not played itself out in the legislative process. Once Sanford still had not applied for the money, Harpootlian and Drake had grounds to bring action. The case moved through the courts in a matter of days, in order to allow plaintiffs to meet the federal deadline to apply for stimulus funds, if the courts ruled in their favor.
Drake says this ruling is about education: “You had school districts that didn’t know how to make decisions, you had teachers that didn’t know whether they were going to have jobs or not, and you had children who were going to be crowded into classrooms. And it’s been proven over and over that the reduction of classroom size makes all the difference in the world in the education the children receive, so this is a tremendous victory for the children of South Carolina.”
Harpootlian, apparently comfortable during the proceedings, says he cannot count the number of cases he has presented before the state’s highest court. He has also argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. He and Drake worked pro bono.
Harpootlian, emphasizes that the state constitution by design offers balance of power, and that it was Gov. Sanford’s unwillingness to work with his own party’s legislative leaders that rendered him ineffective.
“He knew what the state constitution said when he ran for governor,” says Harpootlian.