Announced New Prosecutor in Harrell Case Has Ties to Speaker

August 18, 2014

Investigative Reports

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David PascoeIn announcing Saturday that S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson had handed over his case to 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, House Speaker Bobby Harrell said he just wanted “an independent prosecutor free of political motives and influence.”

But what the Charleston Republican didn’t mention in his written statement or in his earlier remarks to fellow GOP House members in a closed-door meeting in Myrtle Beach – according to an audio recording obtained by The Nerve – was that his son, Robert “Trey” Harrell III, an attorney, worked last year for Pascoe in the solicitor’s office.

Trey Harrell was employed by Pascoe, a Democrat whose district covers Orangeburg, Dorchester and Calhoun counties, from June 5, 2013, to Jan. 4, according to county records. The younger Harrell, who received a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina in 2008 and his law degree from the Charleston School of Law in 2011, now is an attorney with the Columbia law firm of Pete Strom, a former U.S. attorney for South Carolina; state Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Bamberg, also works at the firm.

“At the Solicitor’s Office, Trey handled a variety of cases from forgeries to burglaries,” according to background information posted on the Strom law firm’s website.

Longtime criminal defense attorney Jack Swerling of Columbia, who has represented clients prosecuted by Pascoe, told The Nerve when contacted Sunday he wasn’t aware that Trey Harrell had worked for Pascoe.

Asked if that situation posed a conflict of interest for Pascoe, Swerling replied: “He’s an excellent prosecutor. If he accepted the case, I think he will be fiercely independent and fair – both to the state and Harrell.”

Another attorney with years of experience in the state’s criminal justice system, who asked not to be identified when contacted Sunday by The Nerve, said compared to Wilson, Pascoe is a “prosecutor with a little more backbone.”

“Pascoe is a real prosecutor,” the attorney said. “If I were an innocent person, I would feel very good having Pascoe. But if I were not innocent – maybe not so much.”

Still, as for the fact that Trey Harrell worked for Pascoe, the attorney said, “I think Pascoe has to deal with it up front.”

Pascoe, a former longtime Richland County prosecutor who joined the Columbia office in 1993 and was first elected as the 1st Circuit solicitor in 2004, did not make any public statements over the weekend about the Harrell case. He did not return several phone messages from The Nerve seeking comment.

Pascoe, who served as president of the South Carolina Solicitors’ Association from 2011 to 2013, has successfully tried more than 200 violent crime cases in his career, including a murder case in which the victim’s body was never located, according to a biography published by the South Carolina Bar, the state’s professional organization for lawyers.

Wilson spokesman Mark Powell when contacted Saturday by The Nerve would not confirm whether Wilson, a Republican, has stepped down from the case, or whether the state grand jury investigation has ended, saying only, “We are unable to comment because the Supreme Court order directs that we are not to disclose these matters.”

The state’s top court on July 9 ruled that Wilson could continue the state grand jury investigation of Harrell, but said any related matters in the lower court should be done in private – despite the fact that Richland County Circuit Judge Casey Manning, the administrative judge overseeing the grand jury investigation, held two public court hearings on the case earlier this year.

In a stunning announcement Saturday morning during a closed House Republican Caucus meeting at the Grande Dunes Marriott in Myrtle Beach, Harrell told fellow House members:  “Things aren’t over, but I can tell you that Alan Wilson has removed himself from the case, and the grand jury investigation has ended,” repeating after a brief question from another House member, “The grand jury investigation has ended, and nothing came from it,” according to an audio recording of his remarks obtained later by The Nerve.

Harrell received a round of applause after those remarks. A legislative source told The Nerve that the speaker was given a standing ovation by House members in the room.

Harrell then said, “Alan gave the investigation to David Pascoe; he’s the solicitor in Orangeburg,” though Harrell didn’t reveal then that his son had worked last year for Pascoe.

Harrell continued, “The two biggest pieces of news – after a year and a half of investigating me, he decided to remove himself, and the grand jury expired on June 30. … It just ended.”

He added, “The rest of the story is the grand jury actually expired on June 30, and a representative from the Attorney General’s Office informed my attorney – one of my attorneys – on July 29 that these things had occurred.”

Earlier in his remarks, Harrell, the House speaker since 2005 and who was first elected to the House in 1992, portrayed himself as a type of test case for investigations of lawmakers.

“I believe that – and I told you all this from the very beginning – I was targeted. Because if they succeeded in this template that they were trying to put together, anybody in this room could be next with that template because what they were doing just plain wasn’t right. Because I am the speaker, I was the easy target.”

Harrell at the beginning of his remarks thanked caucus members for their “unbelievable support, encouragement, prayers,” noting, “Those of you who have called me and texted me and emailed me and grabbed me when you saw me and said, ‘I’m for you; we know you’re a good guy; we know you didn’t do anything’ … it means more to me than I can tell.”

And the speaker, after pointing out, “I have your commitments for speaker, thank you very much,” gave this enthusiastic conclusion: “Let me say again, I ain’t going anywhere. I’m going to be right here. God bless you. Thanks.”

His fellow House members then gave him another round of applause.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.