South Carolina’s highest court has ruled in favor of state Attorney General Alan Wilson in the dispute involving South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell.
The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that Wilson can continue a State Grand Jury investigation into allegations that Harrell misused campaign money and his legislative position for personal gain. The justices ruled the case does not have to be investigated by the House Ethics Committee only.
Circuit Judge Casey Manning had ruled in May that the ethics committee had sole jurisdiction to consider the case. Judge Manning pointed to a 2013 decision by the SC Supreme Court that ruled only the House Ethics Committee, not the courts, could handle civil complaints against current and former state House of Representatives members.
But the Supreme Court justices wrote that the Rainey case was different circumstances. In this case, the court was being asked if the grand jury could consider violations of the State Ethics Act. In a per curiam opinion, the justices ruled they could.
“The Ethics Act criminalizes violations, and it is in the Attorney General’s exclusive discretion to prosecute such violations,” the justices wrote
The case now goes back to circuit court, where Judge Manning will consider Harrell’s original complaint that Wilson should be taken off the case due to a conflict of interest.
Attorneys representing the Speaker have previously claimed Wilson made an implicit threat against Harrell. The staffer claimed Wilson was lobbying for Harrell’s support on a new anti-corruption unit at the time. Wilson denies any quid pro quo and said the conversation was not meant as a threat.
“(A)fter more than a year of investigations the Attorney General was still pursuing this case even though he could not point to a single shred of evidence of criminal wrongdoing,” Harrell said in a statement. “Clearly the Attorney General’s motivations have been corrupted by political motives and that is why he needs to be replaced with a fair and impartial prosecutor.”
The Attorney General’s Office said it would not comment on Wednesday’s ruling.