Post and Courier
August 1, 2014

Hearing Friday in House Speaker Bobby Harrell-Attorney General Alan Wilson case

Posted: 03/20/2014 11:08 a.m.
Updated: 03/20/2014 06:10 p.m.


By Schuyler Kropf

Lawyers for House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Attorney General Alan Wilson are expected to be in a Columbia courtroom Friday as part of their duel over whether Wilson should be removed as prosecutor in the grand jury probe of Harrell's conduct and campaign spending.

After days of calls to make the matter open, the state Grand Jury Office confirmed that a hearing will be held at the Richland County Courthouse in front of Circuit Judge Robert E. Hood.

The announcement came shortly after the S.C. Press Association, which represents The Post and Courier and more than 100 other media outlets, filed court papers seeking press access.

Those interested in the case said Thursday they were still unsure as to what the course of action will be. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m.

Jay Bender, attorney for the press group, said he expects Hood to quickly rule that the hearing should remain open, before delving directly into the Harrell-Wilson complaint.

A spokesman for a government watchdog group said he expects the judge's course to be slow and deliberate, saying there's a chance the hearing could end with no ruling being immediately issued.

John Crangle, of the organization Common Cause, said he expects that only the media-access request would be addressed by Hood, since an effort to remove a prosecutor is normally something that would take hours of testimony and evidence.

"It's more than a 10- or-15-minute proposition," he said.

A spokesman for Wilson declined comment. So did a spokesman for the state Grand Jury Office. Charleston attorney Bart Daniel, who is part of Harrell's legal team, did not respond to a request for comment.

Harrell's lawyers reportedly want Wilson replaced as the lead prosecutor in the grand jury investigation, something that would be a rarity among state cases. They have not explained specifically why.

In the court filing Thursday, the press association focused more on ensuring that the spat between Wilson's and Harrell's legal teams remains in open court.

"Harrell's prominence in the affairs of the State of South Carolina demands that any judicial proceeding concerning him be open for scrutiny by public and press so that the public may have confidence that 'justice was done,'?" the motion reads.

The probe into Harrell's conduct dates back almost a year, including when S.C. Policy Council President Ashley Landess filed a complaint raising the issue of whether Harrell, R-Charleston, used his campaign account and legislative office for personal gain.

Landess alleged, among other things, that Harrell may have used his office to benefit a family business, and that he used campaign money for personal use.

Other allegations stem from questions raised in a 2012 Post and Courier report about Harrell's campaign reporting. In January, Wilson's office announced that the probe had been referred to a grand jury.

Harrell has called the complaint "a baseless attack that is driven by personal and political vendetta." He has said he cooperated with state investigators at the time. Wilson, also a Republican, has not commented.

Miller Shealy, who teaches at the Charleston School of Law, said the issue of opening any aspect of a case that is tied to a grand jury investigation is dicey.

Concerns include that the courtroom discussion could potentially venture into disclosing evidence or the names of witnesses, he said.

Another factor, he said, is that matters could errantly be disclosed ahead of a decision not to indict someone.

"Some things don't pan out, or turn out to be wrong," he said.

Shealy, a former federal prosecutor, said that generally speaking, a prosecutor's conduct can also be looked at after an indictment, because there will be records and evidence turned over.

"There may be issues later in other forums to deal with this," he said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551