The South Carolina Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to state Attorney General Alan Wilson’s request for an expedited hearing in the ongoing legal fight against House Speaker Bobby Harrell.
The state’s highest court agreed to hold the hearing on June 24. Wilson is seeking to overturn a decision by Circuit Judge Casey Manning last week that ordered a stop to a State Grand Jury investigation of Harrell. The judge ruled only the House Ethics Commission could handle ethics complaints against the Speaker.
The libertarian thinktank South Carolina Policy Council made the original complaint against Harrell. The complaint accuses the speaker of campaign misspending on his private plane and using his office to get preferential treatment for his pharmacy, among other allege violations. Harrell has repeatedly insisted he’s done nothing wrong and that he’s being targeted for political reasons.
Wilson says the Ethics Act gives his office the power to empanel the Grand Jury for ethics cases as appropriate, since any violation of the Ethics Act is also a misdemeanor and a criminal, not civil, case. Attorneys representing Harrell argue state law gives the Ethics Committee the exclusive power to handle civil complaints against House members and then turn over any possible criminal violations to law enforcement.
But Wilson maintains that Harrell has so much influence in the House that the committee would have a conflict of interest. He says the State Law Enforcement Division has finished its own investigation and turned it over to the Grand Jury, which it would only do for a criminal case. Harrell maintains that Wilson himself has admitted several minor Ethics Act violations, meaning he should also be investigated under his own standards.
The Court’s notice requires briefs in the case to be filed by June 19.