Haley ethics hearing slated to start June 28, subpoenas to be issued next week
COLUMBIA — Before a public hearing takes place later this month on allegations that Gov. Nikki Haley illegally lobbied while a House member, a pair of private attorneys here will be working behind the scenes to investigate the accusations against her.
Where the case stands
The House Ethics Committee next week will subpoena witnesses to appear at a hearing focused on whether Gov. Nikki Haley illegally lobbied while a House member. The hearing will begin on June 28.
The move to hire the lawyers from Columbia law firm Willoughby and Hoefer to serve as “presenters” at the hearing was among the procedures the House Ethics Committee discussed in a closed-door meeting Thursday before emerging to approve them.
The presenters’ job will be to serve as impartial investigators on behalf of the House.
To that end, they will examine documents submitted to the committee by the source of the complaint against the governor, GOP activist John Rainey, and Haley’s office, said Benjamin Mustian, one of the presenters.
Mustian said he and fellow presenter Tracey Green also will interview witnesses, some or all of whom could go on to appear at the hearing on the Haley complaint that will begin June 28.
The Ethics Committee’s chairman, Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, said he hopes the hearing can be wrapped up in two days.
It’s unclear how the Ethics Committee hatched the plan to use presenters, another twist in an unprecedented process for the previously low-profile committee now tasked with serving as judge and jury in the Haley case.
The committee rules the House altered earlier this year to make hearings open upon a finding of probable cause only dictate that a respondent, in this case the governor, has the right to due process.
That means Haley has the right to have an attorney at the hearing who will get to examine witnesses, a privilege Rainey will not get under the procedure adopted Thursday.
Rainey, whose only role in the hearing is likely to be as a witness, didn’t take issue with that decision.
“That’s the protocol they decided, and I play by the rules,” he said.
Haley has repeatedly denied Rainey’s allegations and has said the committee is wasting its time.
Her spokesman, Rob Godfrey, said that the governor has provided the Ethics Committee whatever information it has requested throughout its examination of the complaint and will continue to do so.
Early last month, the Ethics Committee found probable cause that Haley may have committed a violation in her work for the Lexington Medical Center Foundation and Midlands engineering firm Wilbur Smith Associates while a House member from Lexington County.
But the committee then immediately voted to dismiss the allegations anyway.
Then late last month the committee did an about face and decided to reopen its inquiry into the complaint.
The committee will meet again next week to approve witnesses for the hearing.
Smith said the committee likely will approve subpoenas for all requested witnesses, including Haley.
Other likely witnesses include Rainey and current and former officials from the medical center and the engineering firm.
At the hearing, the presenters will explain Rainey’s complaint against Haley to the committee, and Haley’s attorneys will then make a similar opening statement.
Next, the presenters will lay out the findings of their investigation.
The presenters, Haley’s attorneys and committee members will then take turns questioning witnesses before the presenters and Haley’s lawyers make closing statements.
Finally, committee members will go behind closed doors to receive legal advice before making a public ruling.
The committee’s options will be to again dismiss the allegations against Haley, issue a public reprimand and/or levy a fine, or if criminal violations are suspected, refer the case to S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office for further investigation.