The ethics-related case and tussle between House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Attorney General Alan Wilson has featured some of the biggest players in South Carolina politics.
On Tuesday, members of the public packed the Supreme Court's small chamber to watch the court hear the case. The courtroom holds about 150 people and they filled the seats and overflow chairs in the lobby. Many were driven there by the South Carolina Policy Council, Harrell's chief detractor. Harrell, a Charleston Republican, has been accused of using campaign funds for personal use and abusing his position to benefit his company. At stake is whether Wilson and a state grand jury may continue an investigation into the House speaker or whether the case must first be vetted by a panel of lawmakers, the House Ethics Committee, which typically deals with such cases.
Folks were eager to weigh in.
"The fact that we're even having to come here is a travesty," said Gail DeLorey, a utility company worker from Aiken who made the trip to the Supreme Court in Columbia on Tuesday. "There are too many questions about Bobby Harrell's activities."
"All of those justices had to go through Bobby Harrell to get on the bench," she said. "Does that not smack of impropriety?" South Carolina and Virginia are the only states that elect judges in the Legislature.
Summer Solum, 50, of Lexington, called the hearing "disappointing but not surprising." Wilson was criticized by Chief Justice Jean Toal and Justice Don Beatty for stories in the media about the case, particularly those that mentioned what justices inferred should be a secret grand jury investigation.
Harrell said the justices' questions showed that they were concerned, as he is, that Wilson was trying him in the media instead of the courtroom. Some at the hearing felt Harrell should have been getting more of the criticism.
"South Carolina politicians," Solum said, shaking her head.
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House Speaker Bobby Harrell talks with media as he leaves the S.C. Supreme Court with his wife Catherine Harrell after his hearing against Attorney General Alan Wilson Tuesday June 24, 2014.×