- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 13, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina’s highest court has handed a big defeat to the state’s top prosecutor, ruling Wednesday that a local solicitor was correct in thinking he had the authority to open a state grand jury investigation into allegations of legislative corruption.

The 4-1 ruling went against Attorney General Alan Wilson, who had argued that Solicitor David Pascoe had overstepped his authority when he sought to empanel the grand jury. A spokeswoman for Wilson said the office respects the court’s decision “and will abide by it.” Pascoe didn’t immediately return an email.

The ruling caps months of public feuding between the prosecutors over an ongoing investigation into corruption at the South Carolina Statehouse. Their working relationship began in 2014, when, citing a conflict, Wilson picked Pascoe to head up the investigation of former House Speaker Bobby Harrell. The Republican ultimately pleaded guilty to misdemeanor campaign-spending violations and resigned, pledging to cooperate in any ongoing investigations.

After Harrell’s plea, state police released a heavily redacted investigative report. Eleven of the 42 pages were completely or mostly blacked out, with the State Law Enforcement Division citing a public-records-law provision exempting the release of information to be used in a likely law enforcement action. No other lawmakers have been charged, but the probe is ongoing.

In March, Wilson abruptly fired Pascoe after the prosecutor tried to empanel a state grand jury to investigate the redacted portions, saying that act was only something Wilson and the state police chief could authorize and decrying multiple news media leaks about grand jury matters, which are conducted in secret. Pascoe denied those allegations and sued Wilson for the right to go on with his probe.

The court, which heard arguments last month, on Wednesday said it agreed with Wilson, noting that the prosecutor had recused not only himself but also his entire office from the case - a point of contention between the prosecutors - and ruling that Pascoe had been duly empowered to carry on with the investigation.

“We conclude Pascoe has met his burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence (that) he was vested with the authority to act as the Attorney General in the redacted legislators matter, and that this authority necessarily included the power to initiate a state grand jury investigation,” Chief Justice Costa Pleicones wrote, further noting that the attempt to fire Pascoe from the case “was not effective.”

In a dissenting opinion, Justice John Few wrote that he felt it should have been up to a circuit court judge to determine if Wilson indeed did have a conflict before moving forward with the case.

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Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read more of her work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/


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