Attorneys for House Speaker Bobby Harrell say the State Grand Jury does not have the power to investigate one of the state’s most powerful politicians, maintaining that alleged ethics violations against him are not criminal in nature.
In filings with the state Supreme Court Monday, Columbia attorney Bobby Stepp maintained the speaker’s arguments that any ethics complaint should go to the House Ethics Committee. State Attorney General Alan Wilson has previously argued that the ethics committee has a conflict of interest due to Harrell’s influence in the South Carolina House.
But Stepp argued previous rulings have made it clear the House Ethics Committee has jurisdiction over ethics cases. “The Attorney General has no statutory or constitutional right unilaterally to declare that the House Ethics Committee has a conflict of interest and thereby appropriate the investigation of alleged violations of the Ethics Act to himself,” the brief stated.
Wilson’s office is appealing a ruling by Circuit Judge Casey Manning in May that agreed the Attorney General’s Office lacked the proper jurisdiction to investigate a civil ethics complaint. Judge Manning declared the Grand Jury investigation null and void.
The South Carolina Policy Council filed the complaint with the AG’s Office last year, accusing Harrell of misusing campaign money and abusing his position to benefit a pharmacy he owns. Wilson forwarded the case to the State Law Enforcement Division for further investigation. In January, he sent SLED’s findings to the State Grand Jury. Harrell has repeatedly insisted he’s done nothing illegal.
Harrell stayed on that point Monday, “The Attorney General’s appeal of Judge Manning’s ruling was a political document designed to grab headlines. My attorneys’ response is a concise recitation of the law, legal precedents and the Constitution,” he said in a statement.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments from both sides on June 24.