Secret Deal Reached in Transfer of Harrell Case, Court Records Reveal

September 20, 2014

Investigative Reports

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By RICK BRUNDRETT

Details emerge in Wilson’s recusal and transfer of Harrell case

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson agreed to transfer House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s case to a local solicitor, and the now-indicted and suspended speaker agreed to drop a court motion seeking to disqualify Wilson from prosecuting him, under a secretly approved deal between the two sides last month.

The Nerve on Friday obtained a copy of the Aug. 29 consent order, which was approved by Richland County Circuit Judge Casey Manning, who was the administrative judge overseeing a state grand jury investigation of Harrell.

On Sept. 11 – the day after Harrell was indicted by a Richland County grand jury on nine counts of misconduct in office, false reporting and using campaign funds for personal expenses – S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal, acting on behalf of the court, ordered that Manning’s consent order be made public, according to a copy of Toal’s order obtained Friday by The Nerve.

Manning’s order reveals that:

  • On July 11, two days after the state Supreme Court ordered that Manning rule on Harrell’s initial motion to remove Wilson from the case, Harrell filed an amended motion to disqualify Wilson and a separate motion to stop the state grand jury investigation pending a ruling on the amended disqualification motion.
  • Wilson, “desiring to move this case forward,” agreed to transfer the case to 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe in Orangeburg “independently of the pending motions.” Wilson announced in January that after a 10-month investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division, the case was referred to the state grand jury for further investigation. The South Carolina Policy Council – The Nerve’s parent organization – in February 2013 filed a public corruption complaint against Harrell with Wilson, who referred it to SLED.
  • Besides agreeing to drop his court motions seeking to disqualify Wilson and stop the state grand jury investigation, Harrell “consents to the designation of and transfer to Solicitor David Pascoe of all authority in this matter as set out herein.” In an address to the S.C. House GOP Caucus during an Aug. 16 retreat in Myrtle Beach, Harrell made no mention of any plans to drop his court motions.
  • The term of the state grand jury that had been investigating Harrell had ended, and “the matter had not been transferred to the current state grand jury.”

Manning’s order was issued 13 days after Harrell, R-Charleston, announced that Wilson, a Republican, had transferred his case to Pascoe, a Democrat, and that the state grand jury investigation of him had ended; and 12 days before Harrell was indicted by a Richland County grand jury.

Contacted this morning by The Nerve, Bart Daniel of Charleston, one of Harrell’s attorneys, declined comment on the consent order, referring a reporter to court documents.

No bond hearing has been set in Richland County on the indictments, and no trial judge has been assigned to the case, Daniel said.

Pascoe did not respond Friday afternoon to a phone message from The Nerve.

Wilson has not publicly said why he transferred the case to Pascoe. Wilson spokesman Mark Powell declined comment when contacted this morning by The Nerve, saying only, “We’re still bound by the (state) Supreme Court ruling that says ancillary matters (regarding Harrell’s case) are to be conducted in private.”

The Supreme Court on July 9 unanimously ruled, overturning a May 12 ruling by Manning, that Wilson had the authority to continue a state grand jury investigation of Harrell, but sent the case back to Manning to rule on Harrell’s initial motion to remove Wilson from the case. In a footnote in the ruling, the justices said all further related legal arguments in the lower court should be heard in private.

The Aug. 29 hearing in which Manning approved the consent order was not open to the public. Present at the hearing were Harrell, Wilson and attorneys for both sides, according to Manning’s order.

Manning in his order said he was advised during the hearing that the “parties and their counsel have reached a proposed agreement to resolve the pending issues, and have asked the Court to approve the agreement and to enter an order confirming the following terms.”

Besides Harrell and Wilson, those who signed the consent order included Solicitor General Bob Cook and Assistant Deputy Attorney General Allen Myrick, and Harrell attorneys Daniel and Bobby Stepp of Columbia, who argued Harrell’s case before the Supreme Court on June 24.

During a closed-door meeting of the S.C. House GOP Caucus in Myrtle Beach on Aug. 16, Harrell said the term of the state grand jury had “expired” on June 30, but that he first learned of it through one of his attorneys on July 29, according to an audio recording of Harrell’s remarks, as reported earlier by The Nerve.

Toal’s Sept. 11 order noted that when asked to make his consent order public, Manning “declined to do so apparently based on his interpretation” of the July 9 Supreme Court ruling.

“Nothing in the opinion of this Court prevents this consent order from being made available to the public,” Toal wrote. “Therefore, the consent order should be made available to the public.”

After the high court’s July 9 ruling, The Nerve requested of Manning and the State Grand Jury Clerk’s Office that it be notified of any subsequent related court hearings and rulings. No response was given.

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