COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Attorney General Alan Wilson this week has asked South Carolina’s highest court to let him continue a case against House Speaker Bobby Harrell while Wilson appeals a judge’s ruling disbanding the investigation, arguing that that the decision has undercut his authority as the state’s top prosecutor.
In court papers released to the media Tuesday, Wilson said that he has asked the state Supreme Court to allow him to keep presenting corruption allegations to the State Grand Jury. He also wants the high court to hear his appeal without first lodging the case with a lower appellate court.
Wilson is appealing a ruling by Circuit Judge Casey Manning, who ruled last week that the State Grand Jury was improperly empaneled. Saying the prosecutor didn’t show any evidence of criminal wrongdoing, Manning said that, before Wilson could touch the case, it must first be heard by the House Ethics Committee, where the accused would be judged by a panel of his legislative peers - and which is only empowered to handle civil cases.
Harrell’s lawyers had said all along the case should be dealt with by legislators. Last week, Wilson told The Associated Press the move seriously infringed upon his ability to do his job, an argument he reiterated in court papers filed Monday.
“Barring patent unconstitutionality, a court of equity may not halt or interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation or prosecution,” Wilson wrote. “The lower court’s prohibition as to any continuing investigation by the State Grand Jury or law enforcement agencies in this matter far exceeds its authority and fundamentally oversteps its bounds.”
The South Carolina Policy Council, a libertarian-leaning, pro-limited government think tank, brought a complaint to Wilson alleging that Harrell used his influence to get a permit for his pharmaceutical business and improperly appointed his brother to a judicial candidate screening committee.
Wilson sent that case to the State Law Enforcement Division, which investigated for nearly a year. The prosecutor had been in the process of presenting those findings to the State Grand Jury when lawyers for the powerful Charleston Republican challenged his authority in court.
Harrell’s lawyers have said his case should be dealt with by the legislative panel, and the Supreme Court has not said if it will take the case. In a phone interview with AP, Harrell said Tuesday Wilson had every right to appeal but that he saw the judge’s ruling as clear.
“This is just a continuation of the politics,” Harrell said.
Wilson also wrote that Manning errantly based much of his judgment on the same judge’s ruling that the House Ethics Committee should handle ethics charges against Gov. Nikki Haley, who previously served as a legislator - and was ultimately cleared of all charges.
Wilson argued that case was different because that matter was entirely civil and initiated by a private citizen. The Harrell case - while technically flagged to prosecutors’ attention by the Policy Council’s Ashley Landess, a private individual - rose to a criminal level, with Wilson, SLED and the State Grand Jury all being involved.
“Undoubtedly, the appropriate Ethics Committee … has exclusive jurisdiction as to the civil regulatory authority, but the Attorney General has the exclusive power to handle criminal matters,” Wilson wrote. “The vast majority of criminal investigations start with citizen complaints.”
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP