A packed courtroom is expected in Columbia this afternoon, when the state's highest court plans to hear arguments in the ethics-related case against House Speaker Bobby Harrell.

The Post and Courier's Schuyler Kropf has the preview of the case, which has been played out in the media and in Richland County court as Attorney General Alan Wilson pursues an ethics-related case against the House speaker. Those allegations - about whether Harrell improperly used campaign donations and abused his position - aren't going to be decided by the Supreme Court. Instead, the court has been asked to decide whether the attorney general can investigate those charges through the state grand jury. Harrell's attorneys contend the law is clear - ethics-related allegations must first be vetted by a panel of House members set up to deal with such matters.

A lower court agreed with Harrell in May. Wilson has appealed that decision.

Further, legal watchdogs from outside the state say the colliding positions further expose an element of South Carolina's archaic political system, where members of the General Assembly have secured the right to monitor themselves.

At its core "it has every indication of being protective of incumbent legislators," said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a watchdog group based in Washington, D.C.

Court watchers will also have their eyes on Chief Justice Jean Toal, whom Harrell openly supported over Associate Justice Costa Pleicones in February. Some have asked Toal to recuse herself from the case but she has been a part of pre-trial decisions and is expected to hear the case.

Advocacy groups critical of Harrell have encouraged residents to show up en-masse at the court. The South Carolina Policy Council, which has raised many of the questions about Harrell, has asked groups to make the trek to Columbia.

Talbert Black, leader of the tea party-affiliated Palmetto Liberty, echoed that call in an email to supporters.

"If Judge Casey Manning's ruling stands, then lawmakers truly will be held above the law," his email said.


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