South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson formally appealed a state court ruling Tuesday, using his toughest language yet, in a legal clash with powerful House Speaker Bobby Harrell.
Wilson asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to hear his appeal quickly and in the meantime allow the criminal investigation to continue into Harrell’s campaign spending and potential abuse of the Speaker’s authority.
Circuit Judge Casey Manning ruled last week that the Attorney General’s Office exceeded its authority and could not convene the State Grand Jury to consider evidence of possible wrongdoing by Harrell. Manning wrote that only the House Ethics Committee has the “exclusive” power to handle ethics complaints filed against House members.
But Wilson insists his office has the power to begin an investigation against anyone in the state, including legislators. He said he worries the Ethics Committee would have a conflict of interest given Harrell’s power in the chamber and his ability to hire and fire committee staffers (although the committee members themselves are elected by the House).
“The order interferes with, impedes, and stops dead in its tracks an ongoing criminal investigation of public corruption by a State Grand Jury properly impaneled,” the appeal argued.
Harrell has repeatedly dismissed the complaint and investigation as “politically motivated,” insisting he has not violated the law.
Within an hour after the appeal became public, a defiant Speaker Harrell told reporters, “If he really believes what he says in this filing, then he ought to have a special prosecutor looking into his ‘criminal activity.’ If he doesn’t really believe this and he doesn’t actually do that then that’s once again proof that this is just politics.”
AUDIO: Harrell: If AG believes this is criminal act, then he should be investigated himself
Harrell would not answer any more questions, saying he had to attend a House GOP caucus meeting.
Harrell was referencing over $140,000 in campaign filing violations by Wilson’s campaign during and after the 2010 election. Most of the violations were unreported or improperly disclosed donations. Wilson’s staff has called the filings were due to “human error.” The campaign returned some donations and addressed mistakes on others.
The attorney general’s appeal said Manning’s order “… is without any foundation in law. It is a fundamental intrusion by the judicial branch which impedes the duties of the executive branch.”
The judge wrote that the state investigation should be treated the same as from a private citizen. In that, Judge Manning referred to his own ruling in the highly-publicized Rainey v. Haley case. In that case, Manning refused to hear an ethics charge against Gov. Nikki Haley, saying it was under the purview of the House Ethics Committee. The complaint was then sent to the House Ethics Committee, where it was later dismissed.
“The difference between Rainey and this matter is the difference between night and day,” Wilson’s office argued, saying Rainey was a private citizen’s complaint while the Harrell investigation included a SLED investigation and the State Grand Jury.
READ the writ of supersedeas (request for reversal of Judge Manning’s order).
The Attorney General is preparing a full brief. The high court will now decide when to hear the appeal.