The Harrell investigation continues

Yesterday, the state Supreme Court gave Attorney General Alan Wilson the official OK to keep doing what he’s doing:

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, SLED and the State Grand Jury can continue investigating alleged ethics and other possible criminal violations against S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell while Wilson’s appeal of a lower court order is pending, the Supreme Court said in an order issued Thursday.

In his May 12 ruling on the matter, Circuit Judge Casey Manning ordered Wilson and SLED to stop investigating Harrell and turn the matter over to the House Ethics Committee for its consideration.

Manning also ordered Wilson to disband the State Grand Jury that is investigating Harrell. But Wilson had continued to investigate even after Manning’s ruling, saying the ruling infringed on his role as the state’s top prosecutor.

The Supreme Court’s order Thursday keeps the grand jury intact and allows it to keep investigating Harrell pending a June 24 hearing on whether Wilson’s entire investigation should be turned over to the House Ethics Committee….

While not definitively affirming the rule of law (that will only happen when Manning’s ruling is overturned), this restores some semblance of good sense and order to the situation.

I found it ironic that Harrell put out a statement saying in part, “The attorney general’s conduct has made it clear that political motivations are driving his actions.” In a backhanded way, Bobby Harrell is doing all he can to get Alan Wilson re-elected, by acting so outrageously (the attempt to have the AG taken off the case secretly really takes the cake) and offering him these golden opportunities to look good.

That said, Mr. Wilson deserves full credit for rising to the occasion, doing the right thing at each step along the way.

On a related matter — what do y’all think about the question John Monk raised this morning, whether Jean Toal and Costa Pleicones should recuse themselves in the matter of Harrell, since the speaker backed the former for re-election, and opposed the latter?

I’m inclined to say no — that argument could conceivably be taken to the conclusion that no state judge should ever decide a matter regarding a legislator, since they elect the judges — but I’m open to a good argument…

7 thoughts on “The Harrell investigation continues

  1. Doug Ross

    If Harrell and Toal have more than a judicial-legislative relationship, Toal needs to recuse herself. In my mind, that means if they have EVER had any conversation related to Toal remaining in her position. The perception of quid pro quo is way too strong here.

    From the Post and Courier after Toal won the vote for her job:

    “The race in itself was billed as historic because an associate justice had never before challenged a sitting chief justice who nearly everyone agreed was a competent judge. Face-to-face politics played a large role, as leaders in the House jockeyed for votes for their candidates – Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, for Pleicones and House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, for Toal.”

    That seems pretty clear that both judges should recuse themselves to avoid even the hint of bias.

    But they won’t., And Toal will pay pack Harrell. That’s how it works.

  2. Bryan Caskey

    Re: the recusal issue – it’s interesting.

    Although Harrell backed Justice Toal’s bid to remain Chief, she’s not able to run again, so she doesn’t really need to seek the blessing of any legislator anymore. This is her last term however you slice it. So you could argue that she’s not beholden to anyone, and therefore need not recuse herself. That doesn’t address the issue of her being just recently re-elected, which is certainly in part due to Harrell’s support.

    Conversely, Justice Pleicones could conceivably run for Chief when Justice Toal’s term ends, I think, but it would only be for a short time, since he’ll age out as well. Again, this doesn’t address the issue of Harrell supporting his opponent.

    My completely uneducated guess is that neither will recuse themselves, and the court will somehow distinguish between criminal and ethical issues, and allow the AG to continue with the investigation.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      My analysis exactly, except that even if they were biased their biases would cancel each other out.

  3. tired old man

    Regarding the statement: I’m inclined to say no — that argument could conceivably be taken to the conclusion that no state judge should ever decide a matter regarding a legislator, since they elect the judges — but I’m open to a good argument.

    Isn’t this the best possible argument possible for changing the way we elect judges, and making the judiciary a completely separate branch of government elected for lengthy terms by the people after some form of judicial screening from an independent block of attorneys?

  4. Ralph Hightower

    What’s bizarre is that Casey Manning approved the request to convene a Grand Jury to investigate Harrell. Now, he decides to end the Grand Jury?

    It just doesn’t make sense.

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