The court’s unanimous ruling in the Harrell/Wilson matter

Dave Crockett points out that we haven’t discussed the SC Supreme Court’s unanimous smackdown of Judge Manning’s bizarre ruling in the matter of Bobby Harrell, and Alan Wilson’s power to investigate him.

Maybe I’ve just been avoiding it, subconsciously, out of petulance over being scooped by that upstart Bryan Caskey:

Bryan didn’t just scoop ME. I happened to read that Tweet while attending the awards ceremony at The State Wednesday afternoon. I followed his link, and passed my phone first to Cindi Scoppe, then to John Monk — two people who have done more than anyone to keep us informed on this case — to give them the heads-up. (To John’s credit, he had told me before we sat down that the ruling was sort of expected, “Even as we stand here.” Fortunately, another reporter from the paper was covering that base while he was occupied.)

What to make of the ruling?

Well, to start with, it affirms what remaining faith we have in the rule of law. The justices unanimously rejected the absurd argument that the trial judge had constructed of whole cloth.

On the other hand, Manning could still rule unfavorably on Wilson’s ability to continue to handle the investigation, as the judge was instructed by the court to consider Harrell’s original motion seeking to remove the attorney general from the case.

So justice is still not out of the woods.

And I’m still a bit worried by that footnote to the ruling: “Due to the secrecy afforded state grand jury proceedings, future arguments regarding jurisdiction, or any other ancillary matter, should be held in camera.” I’m not sure what that means, in terms of what will be cloaked in secrecy and what will not. You’ll recall that our awareness of this power struggle began with John’s story about how the attempt by Harrell to have the court consider whether to toss Wilson off the case secretly.

On that point, I await further elucidation.

There seems little doubt, though, that the justices have been distressed from the start by the splash this case has made on the front pages.

But how could it be otherwise — a struggle between the highest levels of two branches of our government, with the third branch caught uncomfortably between?

5 thoughts on “The court’s unanimous ruling in the Harrell/Wilson matter

  1. Mark Stewart

    Isn’t the Supreme Court’s footnote saying Harrell should have won his initial secrecy gambit? In other words, it appears to me as though they said that if this situation had been kept under wraps, they never would have been placed in the uncomfortable – and damned if you do and damned if you don’t – position of having to rule in such a politically charged situation.

    The trouble is, while it is hard to fault the general value of grand jury secrecy, this particular case is exactly the kind of situation that demands full transparency and accountability to the citizens of the state. The fact that the Supreme Court, well Toal at least, tried to personalize this as political jockeying among political rivals, glosses over the real importance of this case as a Constitutional office conflict which is centered not on policy or politics, but on personal bad acts (by one party).

    This was a stark choice between the rule of law and the power of corruption and the Supreme Court chose to slide one step to the side of the rule of law. They should not believe that they artfully dodged the charging bull. It seems more likely that this feint will inevitably see the return of the case. If it was an angry beast before…

    1. Kathryn Braun Fenner

      Well, grand jury secrecy is a good thing, generally. It is said that any half-decent prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. Indictment is relatively easy, and not an adjudication of guilt, yet merely being investigated by a grand jury can be (ought to be, maybe) a political poison pill.
      At the same time, a prosecutor is not SUPPOSED to be impartial–that’s for judges and juries, as Toal well knows. A prosecutor ought to believe s/he’s doing the right thing by prosecuting!

  2. bud

    This whole thing smacks of Rube Goldbergism. This should be a very simple matter yet we somehow manage to involve every court in the state. And the whole thing just gets more convoluted. I have to tip my hat to anyone who can follow the court’s ruling. Seems like jiberish to me.

    1. The Legal System

      “This whole thing smacks of Rube Goldbergism. This should be a very simple matter yet we somehow manage to involve every court in the state.”

      Hello there, kind sir. It seems that you’ve never met me before.

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