Lucas: House Speaker Expected to Voluntarily Step Down Today from Office

September 11, 2014

Investigative Reports

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Bobby HarrellUpdate: 9/11/14, 6:30 p.m. – House Speaker Pro Tempore Jay Lucas informed suspended Speaker Bobby Harrell by letter this afternoon that his suspension, “effective 10:35 a.m., Sept. 11, 2014, remains in effect until Section 8-13-560 requires the declaration of a vacancy in House Seat 114 or requires your reinstatement,” according to a copy of the letter provided to The Nerve. Lucas issued the letter after reviewing a state attorney general’s opinion issued this morning contending that he was required to suspend Harrell, who voluntarily suspended himself from office this morning. Still, Lucas in his letter noted, “As you previously had taken that lawfully required action I believe that issue to be moot.” Under state law, the suspension of a General Assembly member remains in effect until the official is “acquitted, convicted, pleads guilty, or pleads nolo contendere.” If convicted, the lawmaker’s seat must be declared vacant; if acquitted or if charges are dismissed, the legislator is entitled to reinstatement with back pay, according to the law.

Update: 9/11/14, 12:40 p.m. – As expected, House Speaker Bobby Harrell voluntarily suspended himself this morning from office, according to a letter he submitted to House Clerk Charles Reid. But in an opinion released this morning by the S.C. Attorney General’s Office, Solicitor General Bob Cook, writing in response to questions from Richland County Democratic Reps. James Smith and Todd Rutherford, both of whom are attorneys, said Harrell doesn’t have the authority under state law to suspend himself from office, and that the suspension must be imposed by House Speaker Pro Tempore Jay Lucas. “I’m going to Columbia now and will sit down and read it (the opinion), and will do what the law requires me to do,” Lucas told The Nerve minutes ago.

Indicted S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell is expected to voluntarily suspend himself from office today, House Speaker Pro Tempore Jay Lucas told The Nerve this morning.

“It is my understanding that pursuant to the statute, he will suspend himself today,” Lucas, R-Darlington said.

State law (Section 8-13-560 of the S.C. Code of Laws) requires the presiding officer of the House – in this case, Harrell – to immediately suspend a House member indicted in state or federal court for a felony, a crime of moral turpitude, a criminal election-law violation, or a crime that carries a sentence of two or more years.

The Nerve revealed Wednesday that one of the nine charges against Harrell – common law misconduct in office – carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

Lucas said this he has not spoken to Harrell, but that it was his understanding that the speaker would notify the House Clerk’s Office of his suspension. House Clerk Charles Reid did not immediately respond to a written message this morning from The Nerve seeking confirmation.

Harrell, R-Charleston and the House speaker since 2005, and one of his attorneys, Bart Daniel of Charleston, did not respond to phone messages this morning from The Nerve seeking comment. Gedney Howe of Charleston, who also is representing Harrell, immediately hung up after a Nerve reporter identified himself in a phone call with him this morning.

A Richland County grand jury on Wednesday indicted Harrell, who was first elected to the House in 1992, on nine charges: one count of false reporting under the state Ethics Act, two counts of misconduct in office, and six counts under the Ethics Act of use of campaign funds for personal expenses.

Lucas, an attorney, said it was his understanding that Harrell would remain suspended pending the outcome of his criminal case and through “this legislative session.” If the criminal case is not resolved by the time the House reconvenes in January for the next legislative session, Harrell – if he is still the speaker then – would have to suspend himself again from office as the law requires, Lucas said.

“That is probably a big assumption at this point,” Lucas said when asked about whether Harrell likely would be the speaker come January.

Lucas said that during Harrell’s expected suspension, he would assume Harrell’s duties, though not his title, in the interim. That would include such things as naming any vacancies to House committees, handling the freshmen House members’ orientation, and overseeing the House organizational meeting after the general election in November.

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