In what was likely the last time disgraced former House Speaker Bobby Harrell faced his peers in a Blatt Building meeting room Tuesday morning, Harrell was a defeated man.
Attempting one last appeal that his expenditures of $113,475 in campaign funds to pay legal defenses related to his failed defense against ethics charges he pleaded guilty to were legal, Harrell’s latest attorney, Mark Peper, made a 10-minute argument on his client’s behalf but to no avail.
After a meeting in executive session to consider Peper’s appeals – a total dropping of the charges against him – prosecuting attorney Deborah Barbier took the podium to reiterate the state’s position against Harrell: The use of funds was illegal, Harrell made misrepresentations to the committee about them, the claims made by Peper had no basis (including one in which Peper alleged First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe told him it was OK), and the state should seek repayment within 180 days and issue a public reprimand and $1,000 fine.
In a unanimous vote moments later, the House Ethics Committee did just that, finding Harrell guilty of using campaign funds to pay fees in a criminal case he lost that centered around misuse of campaign funds for personal gain.
“I’m disappointed,” Harrell said in a brief statement in the hallway outside following the meeting. “I don’t agree with the decision the committee made but I do very much appreciate the committee finally giving us an opportunity to come up and state our side publicly.”
Per South Carolina law, Harrell would have been able to pay for his defense with campaign funds if he had won his case.
As for having to pay back the $113,475, Peper said his client doesn’t have it, as he faces a bill of more than $600,000 in attorney’s fees incurred during his losing fight. “And he doesn’t have my bill yet,” Peper said with a smile as he walked away.
Reach Aiken at 803-254-4411 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RonAiken and @TheNerveSC.