By Paul Gable
Most of you probably already know that earlier this week the S.C. Supreme Court reversed a circuit court ruling that ordered the grand jury investigation into possible political corruption by S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell ended.
The Supreme Court ruled that Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning erred when he said the case belonged in the S.C. House Ethics Committee unless the committee found evidence of a possible criminal violation at which time it would refer its findings to the Attorney General’s office.
The Court ruled that the existence of the House Ethics Committee “does not affect the Attorney General’s authority to initiate a criminal investigation in any way.”
The case was remanded back to circuit court where the question of whether Attorney General Alan Wilson should be replaced in state grand jury proceedings in this case by a “fair and impartial prosecutor.”
Harrell’s attorneys argued before Manning that Wilson should be replaced. It was Manning himself that took the hearing into the jurisdictional area.
In our adversarial legal system, the term “fair and impartial prosecutor” is an oxymoron, just as the term “fair and impartial defense attorney” would be. In the current state of our legal system, the term “fair and impartial” is often impossible to apply to a judge.
That brings up an interesting question. Should Judge Manning now be required to recuse himself from the case since his impartiality could be questioned? By going into the area of jurisdiction, Manning appeared to be favoring Harrell in his earlier hearing, enough so that many questioned whether the ‘fix was in’.
The question of a ‘fix’ still hangs about this case. In its decision, the Supreme Court added a footnote just before the conclusion. It states, “Due to the secrecy afforded state grand jury proceedings, future arguments regarding jurisdiction, or any other ancillary matter, should be held in camera.”
“In camera” means in secret. Therefore, the hearing to determine whether Wilson should be replaced will be held in secret.
That hearing is not a grand jury proceeding. It will be a circuit court proceeding to determine who presents the prosecution’s case to the grand jury.
Harrell’s attorneys earlier requested that the circuit court hearing be held in secret. Now, they appear to have their wish.
The S.C. Constitution clearly states that all court proceedings be held in public. If Harrell is indicted by the grand jury, his trial will be held in public.
But, the S.C. Supreme Court stated a circuit court hearing on whether Wilson should continue as prosecutor should be held in secret.
Is the fix in?