The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office says it will continue its investigation of state House Speaker Bobby Harrell — even though a judge ordered the ongoing ethics probe to shut down.
Judge Casey Manning ruled Monday that only the House Ethics Committee has the exclusive power to investigate House members over ethics issues. But Attorney General Alan Wilson says his office will continue working on the case while it appeals the ruling.
Harrell accused Wilson of “defying” Manning’s order. “This entire thing has been political in nature. It hasn’t been about the law,” he told reporters after Tuesday’s House session. “And that’s obvious and proven today by the Attorney General choosing to defy the court order and move forward purely for political reasons.” Both Harrell and Wilson are Republicans seeking reelection this year.
Wilson was in Washington on Tuesday and could not be reached for further comment. But he previously told The State newspaper continued work is allowed under an appeal. “The grand jury can continue to do work until the S.C. Supreme Court orders it to cease and desist,” he told the paper.
But Harrell said Judge Manning clearly ruled any actions by the State Grand Jury were “null and void” in his decision. “I think that the court’s spoken. And… until the Supreme Court makes a decision on this, Judge Manning’s order is the law of the land.”
South Carolina Policy Council executive director Ashley Landess, who filed the original complaint against Harrell, said she would not send the complaint to the Ethics Committee. Her sentiments were echoed by state government watchdog John Crangle of the Common Cause organization. Crangle said members of the Ethics Committee would have a conflict of interest due to Harrell’s substantial influence in the House.
“It’s like having a jury pool and everybody in the jury pool is the litigant’s cousin,” he said. “How can you draw a jury that will give a fair trial in that situation?”
Crangle, who helped write the ethics law, said he had significant issues with Judge Manning’s ruling. Crangle said there is nothing in the State Ethics Act that gives the House Ethics Committee “exclusive” jurisdiction over ethics cases, only that the committee must look into any complaints they receive. He said any violations of the act are considered criminal misdemeanor cases and should be handled by the Attorney General’s Office.
Harrell on Monday repeated his call for Wilson to release the report from an investigation that the State Law Enforcement Division conducted on his campaign finances. Wilson refused, saying the investigation still continues. “The Attorney General and Chief of SLED have consulted with one another and have determined that because there is an ongoing criminal investigation and an appeal of this matter, it would be inappropriate to release the SLED report at this time,” AG’s office spokesman Mark Powell said in an email.