S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson says nothing in state law limits when lawmakers like House Speaker Bobby Harrell can become the subject of a criminal investigation.
"Simply put, there is no recognized criminal immunity for legislators in South Carolina," Wilson wrote in a brief filed with the state Supreme Court Thursday.
Additionally, Wilson wrote it is "mere fantasy" for Harrell's team to assert nothing criminal was ever presented to law enforcement officials investigating the Charleston Republican.
"Respondent cannot exploit the secrecy provisions of the State Grand Jury Act by arguing that because he is not privy to any potential criminal allegations, then there are none," Wilson wrote.
He added, "Moreover, Respondent again overlooks that a Grand Jury is but the beginning of an investigation into possible criminal conduct, not an end."
The filing comes as both sides in Harrell's ethics case will be in front of the state Supreme Court on Tuesday. Wilson wants the court to reverse Circuit Judge Casey Manning's ruling from this spring that said the ethics-related allegations against Harrell could not be investigated by Wilson or a state grand jury, unless they were first 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 pharmaceutical company, among other allegations raised in the media and by government watchdog groups. Wilson had referred the case to a state grand jury earlier this year after state police completed a 10-month criminal investigation.
In their brief filed early last week, Harrell's team said he isn't trying to be treated as a "super citizen," only that the grand jury doesn't have jurisdiction to investigate what they contend to be a civil - not criminal - matter, applicable to ethics officials.
Wilson contends he has full authority to continue his probe and shouldn't have to wait for lawmakers on the ethics panel to convene.
"By cloaking himself in the separation of powers mantle, Respondent seeks to give himself as a member of the legislative branch a form of immunity from investigation and prosecution where none exists," Wilson's brief said.
Charleston attorney Bart Daniel, who represents Harrell in the case, declined Friday to comment about aspects of Wilson's filing.
"It's scheduled for Tuesday," he said of the court hearing, "so we'll all see soon enough."
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551