House Speaker Bobby Harrell's legal team on Monday continued their argument that Attorney General Alan Wilson has no authority to investigate him for civil violations, saying the proper venue for any irregularities for a House member is the House Ethics Committee.
"The Attorney General is not authorized to investigate these civil matters, at least until the House Ethics Committee has acted and the administrative remedies have been exhausted," lawyers said in a filing to the S.C. Supreme Court released Monday afternoon.
"Moreover, the Grand Jury has no jurisdiction to investigate civil matters and should not be permitted to proceed with a matter that is clearly outside of its jurisdiction. This Court should affirm the order of the lower court in all respects."
Harrell's filing comes as both sides in the Harrell and Wilson showdown have filed briefs ahead of the scheduled June 24 argument in front of the justices
Harrell's motion also notes that the allegations of wrong-doing against Harrell that caused Wilson to begin an investigation came in as a "citizen's complaint," a reference to the letter from Ashley Landess of the Libertarian leaning non-profit S.C. Policy Council.
"Violations of the Ethics Act have been unambiguously declared by the Court to be civil rather than criminal in nature," Harrell's lawyers wrote.
Another allegation: "In usurping the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee, the Attorney General ignored established precedent and violated state law."
Harrell's documents were filed a week after Attorney General Alan Wilson filed his legal outline with the court contending he does not need the permission of the House Ethics Committee for a case against Harrell to be investigated.
"It is up to the Legislature to determine whether someone indicted or convicted of a crime should remain a member of the body, or should receive some other reprimand or discipline," Wilson wrote in the brief. "That power in no way affects the right of the Attorney General to seek a conviction."
Wilson's comment came as an appeal to the May 12 ruling by Richland Circuit Judge Casey Manning, who said that ethics-related allegations against Harrell, could not be investigated by Wilson or a state grand jury, and instead need to first be vetted by the House Ethics Committee, a panel of lawmakers charged with investigating and disciplining House members.
Harrell has been accused of using his campaign funds for personal use and abusing his position to benefit his company, among other allegations.
Manning and Harrell's attorneys said the law is clear: all ethics-related allegations need to first be heard by the House Ethics Committee. If the committee finds evidence of criminal behavior, it then must ask the attorney general to investigate.
Wilson said Manning's conclusion would give criminal immunity to lawmakers simply because they are legislators.
Harrell had until today to file his response brief.
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