House Speaker Bobby Harrell is expected to take his ethics-related case back to a Richland County courtroom in the near future after the S.C. Supreme Court unanimously sided with Attorney General Alan Wilson, saying the state's top cop has the right to pursue the case against him.
For detractors of Harrell, R-Charleston, Wednesday's ruling came as a relief. Aside from the case itself, some - including the state's three former attorneys general - worried a sweeping ruling from the justices would forever inhibit the ability of the state's attorney general to investigate an ethics-related case against a sitting lawmaker. Harrell's attorneys had argued that all such cases must first be vetted by the House Ethics Committee. The court disagreed, saying the AG's authority can't be blunted by House rules.
Former Attorney General Charlie Condon said the ruling is not so much about the Harrell-Wilson fight, but a clear support for the rule of law.
Judge Casey Manning's decision, which was overruled, had the effect of setting up two sets of standards, "one for the General Assembly, and one for the rest of us. ... The court unanimously rebuked that," he said, adding that the decision has the effect of reaffirming the attorney general's role as chief prosecutor in every court in the state.
In a statement, Harrell noted that the issue about whether the attorney general had the authority to take on the case was brought up by Manning. Harrell's attorney had asked the circuit court to remove Wilson from the case, arguing he has a conflict of interest. Harrell said he was "disappointed" with the decision, but said the court was right to sharply question a deputy attorney general arguing the case on June 24.
"As Supreme Court Justices clearly pointed out at the hearing, the Attorney General has improperly handled this case from the beginning," he said. It takes 10 days for a lower court to officially receive the Supreme Court's ruling and set new hearings.
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