Judge tosses Grand Jury case against Speaker Bobby Harrell

(Bill Burr/WCIV)


COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV) -- Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning on Monday ruled that the state's attorney general has to back off the Grand Jury criminal investigation into House Speaker Bobby Harrell.

In the decision, Manning agreed with Harrell's attorneys that the hearing of possible ethics violations must first go to the House Ethics Committee.

Harrell said in a statement that he was happy with the ruling.

"We are pleased with the court's ruling that the politically motivated exceptions forced on this matter were inappropriate and that the proper legal process - not a political process - should be followed. The law is very clear on this matter and the judge made the right decision - and prior to inserting himself politically in this one case, it was a law the Attorney General had always followed," he said.

Manning also disagreed with Attorney General Alan Wilson's argument that the State Constitution should carry more weight than state law. But Manning said Wilson "failed to offer or present to the court any evidence or allegations which are criminal in nature."

Wilson's office responded, saying it would continue to seek legal recourse against Harrell.

"We believe today's order of Judge Manning is without any foundation or support in the law. This Office will vigorously pursue all appellate remedies and will seek to continue this investigation," Wilson said.

Wilson and State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel spent nearly a year compiling campaign funding information to show that Harrell converted donations to his campaign into personal use. That information was put together into a report for the Grand Jury.

However, that work was undone Monday with Manning declaring that the Grand Jury was not the appropriate avenue for Harrell's case.

"It is hereby rescinded and revokes and that neither the Grand Jury nor any other investigative agency shall take any further action concerning the ethics violations allegations discussed," Manning said.

Harrell said in a statement Monday evening that his attorneys had not received any notice that Wilson's office had filed a new motion.

"This wouldn't be the first time the Attorney General's Office has issued a press release improperly - It is similar to how they have issued press releases about 'secret' grand jury proceedings," he said.

"We have said from the beginning that this entire investigation has been politically driven. The Attorney General's statement this afternoon confirms that fact. The constitution and state statutes are clear on these issues. Rather than discussing the merits of the case, the Attorney General continues to play politics.

Harrell said the 15-month investigation needs to end.

"These allegations, crafted by a secretly-funded Libertarian political organization, are nothing more than the baseless mudslinging of a vindictive smear campaign. This is a group driven by personal and political vendetta because of how their organization's president lost a coveted government appointment when I became House Speaker," Harrell said.