By Paul Gable
The S.C. Supreme Court will hear arguments beginning at 1:30 p.m. today on the continuing controversy over who has the right to investigate possibly illegal actions by S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell.
The case originally dates from an alleged ethics complaint brought to S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson by the libertarian South Carolina Policy Council. It included allegations that Harrell used his influence as Speaker to obtain a contract for his pharmaceutical supply business and improperly appointed his brother to a judicial candidate screening committee.
(In South Carolina, the legislature appoints a panel that screens judicial applicants and sends recommendations back to the legislature which votes on the recommendations for final approval of the judges. To further complicate the situation, many of the applicants are former legislators.)
The complaint also questioned the use of approximately $324,000 of Harrell’s campaign funds to reimburse himself for costs associated with trips in his personal airplane.
Harrell contends no wrong doing.
Wilson requested the S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to conduct an investigation into the complaints, an investigation that took approximately 10 months in 2013.
Harrell said he cooperated fully with the investigators and, interestingly, did not question their legal right to investigate him.
Things changed in January 2014 after Wilson announced he had sent the results of the investigation to the state grand jury for consideration of possible indictments against Harrell.
It was then that Harrell challenged Wilson’s and the grand jury’s right to investigate him making the legal argument that only the House Ethics Committee has the legal right to investigate alleged ethics complaints against House members.
The House Ethics Committee consists of ten representatives (five Republicans and five Democrats) appointed by Harrell and approved by vote of the House.
Didn’t this same legal principle apply when SLED was investigating Harrell and why did Harrell wait until after the SLED investigation was sent to the state grand jury to challenge the legality of the process?
The state grand jury is the only body in the entire Harrell investigation over which Harrell does not exert political influence of some kind.
And, we won’t be able to ensure politics will not be a part of the Supreme Court deliberations. With South Carolina being only one of two states in the nation where the legislature elects judges, and where many of the judges are former legislators, one must question the independence of the judiciary in this process.
Much more than Harrell’s political future will be on view in Columbia today. South Carolina’s entire inbred, legislature dominated, out of date political system will be open for all to see.