Judge considers case against House Speaker Harrell

(Bill Burr/WCIV)


COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP/WCIV) - A judge is considering whether a case against House Speaker Bobby Harrell should be handled by a legislative panel.

Circuit Judge Casey Manning said Friday he will need about a week to decide how the allegations against the powerful Charleston Republican should be handled.

Harrell's attorneys say the House Ethics Committee should handle the case.

Attorney General Allan Wilson says the case is criminal and should be dealt with the State Grand Jury. That panel is considering whether Harrell should be indicted on charges that he used his office to boost his finances by using influence to get a permit for his pharmaceutical business and that he improperly appointed his brother to a judicial candidate screening committee.

Harrell's lawyers say Wilson tried to intimidate the speaker into supporting legislation.

Harrell attorney Bart Daniel argued before Circuit Judge Casey Manning that statutes already allow the House Ethics Committee to do a job.

"The ethics committees - House and Senate - are charged with the exclusive, and your honor I emphasize the exclusive, responsibility for the handling of ethics complaints," said Daniel.

Three former attorneys general - Henry McMaster, Travis Medlock, and Charlie Condon - showed support for the state's current chief prosecutor. They and Alan Wilson believe state law already requires the AG to handle alleged ethics violations. After the hearing, both sides offered their thoughts about the proceedings.

"Judge Manning is a good judge and we know that he will do the right thing. But the legislature can not choose their own prosecutors," said Medlock, a Democrat.

"All we wanted from day one is to have the facts of this case come out. Have it dealt with the way it's supposed to be dealt with, and quite simply just do that," said Harrell.

After the hearing, the state's Democratic Party issued a statement.

"Today the Speaker of the House displayed just how broken the system is in Columbia. Speaker Harrell is trying to remove a fellow Republican from investigating his ethics scandal so he can have a kangaroo-court of fellow house members clear his name," said Chairman Brady Quirk-Garvin.

"We look forward to the decision by Judge Manning. Obviously we hope he will uphold the law and allow Attorney General Wilson to do his job."

Bobby Harrell also released a statement.

"Today's hearing publicly outlined how the Attorney General has attempted to intentionally circumvent the clearly established constitutional and legal process. In every other ethics case, Attorney General Wilson has followed the law - this case being his one exception.," Harrell said in the statement.

The judge hopes to reach an opinion by next week, but he admits whatever it is, a final ruling will probably take place at the corner of Sumter and Gervais streets in Columbia, referring to the state Supreme Court.