Court Hearing Set for Friday on Harrell Ethics Case

March 20, 2014

Investigative Reports

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Bobby HarrellA court hearing has been scheduled for Friday regarding reported efforts by S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell to secretly try to remove state Attorney General Alan Wilson from an ongoing ethics investigation of the speaker.

The hearing is set for 10:30 a.m. in Courtroom 2-B in the Richland County Courthouse in downtown Columbia before Circuit Judge Robert Hood, according to an email sent this afternoon to The Nerve from James Parks, the state grand jury clerk. The hearing is open to the public.

The State newspaper last week reported, citing unidentified sources, that Harrell’s lawyers were seeking a closed hearing before Hood, who is the chief administrative judge for the state grand jury, to argue that Wilson should be removed from their client’s case because of an unspecified conflict of interest.

Friday’s hearing would be unprecedented in recent memory involving a state attorney general and a member of the S.C. General Assembly. An investigation by The Nerve, reported on Monday, found that:

  • Although state grand jury hearings are secret under state law, there is no apparent authority in state law or a 2000 administrative order by the S.C. Supreme Court for a target of a state grand jury investigation to request a secret court hearing on purely procedural issues that don’t deal with witness testimony.
  • There is no known recent case of a target of a state grand jury investigation requesting that a sitting attorney general be removed from that case.
  • State law and attorney rules of conduct list no criteria for determining conflicts of interest involving prosecutors, though an ex-state attorney general and a former state grand jury chief told The Nerve that those standards are very high.

Harrell or his attorneys have not stated publicly why they believe Wilson should be removed from the case.

Hood, who has been a judge for two years, could immediately decide Friday whether any procedural hearings involving Harrell should be open to the public, or he could decide to rule on that issue at a later date. If he rules at Friday’s hearing that such hearings be open to the public, it is not known whether he would immediately consider Harrell’s request to remove Wilson from the case.

Jay Bender, an attorney for the South Carolina Press Assocation, requested a hearing before Hood to contest any move by Harrell to close his court hearings. The Nerve, though its parent organization, The South Carolina Policy Council, is an associate member of the Press Association.

The Nerve last week requested that Hood notify The Nerve in advance of any upcoming hearings involving Harrell. The Charleston Republican, who has been the House speaker since 2005, maintains he has done nothing wrong, and he has not been charged with any criminal or administrative violations.

The South Carolina Policy Council filed a complaint in February 2013 against Harrell requesting that Wilson conduct an investigation of, among other things, whether Harrell’s campaign reimbursements connected with his private plane use violated state ethics laws, and whether he illegally used his office for his financial benefit or that of his family business. The case was referred to the state grand jury in January after a 10-month investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division.

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