Those who have pushed for an investigation into House Speaker Bobby Harrell are cheering the choice of the prosecutor reportedly taking over the ethics-related probe.
Harrell, R-Charleston, told Republicans on Saturday that a state grand jury investigation into his conduct has come to an end and Attorney General Alan Wilson has stepped aside from the case. Harrell and his attorneys have argued that the state's top prosecutor has political motives in pursuing the case and that the investigation should be headed by an impartial prosecutor.
Wilson chose First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe to take over the case, according to Harrell. The Speaker has been accused of using campaign funds for personal use and using his office to benefit his business, among other allegations raised by a 2012 Post and Courier report and by the S.C. Policy Council in a February 2013 complaint. The Charleston Republican had long maintained his innocence and said the investigation was politically motivated.
"I have said from the beginning that I violated no law and have only sought an independent prosecutor free of political motives and influence," Harrell said in a statement Saturday. "I hope these events accomplish that."
Ashley Landess, policy council president, said that Pascoe appears to be a good choice. "From what I've been told and what I'm hearing, he's a solid, aggressive prosecutor," she said.
Landess said, however, that she is skeptical of Harrell's claims about where the case stands. "We don't know anything except for what Bobby Harrell has said," she said. "Take that with a mountain of salt."
Harrell spokesman Greg Foster declined to comment.
John Crangle, an attorney and director of S.C. Common Cause, a government watchdog group that has been critical of Harrell, said Pascoe is a good choice for the job. "If I was going to pick a prosecutor of all the 16, I would pick Pascoe," Crangle said. "He's a Democrat, he's been solicitor for over 20 years, he's prosecuted over 200 violent crimes. And he has a reputation of being a pretty tough prosecutor."
Pascoe, who oversees prosecutions in Dorchester, Calhoun and Orangeburg counties, got his start as a prosecutor in the Columbia area in 1993. He took over as 1st Circuit solicitor in January 2005, and he served as president of the South Carolina Solicitor's Association from 2011 to 2013.
Pascoe is also the former employer of Harrell's son, Trey, who once worked as an assistant prosecutor in the 1st Circuit Solicitor's Office, according to Trey Harrell's biography at Columbia's Strom Law Firm.
Pascoe is no stranger to taking on tough cases. Last year, he decided to have the State Law Enforcement Division conduct further investigation into a police-involved shooting in Eutawville after the U.S. Department of Justice closed its file on the case without an arrest. Pascoe went on to win a grand jury indictment against Eutawville's former police chief for allegedly using excessive force in the fatal shooting in May 2011.
Pascoe declined to comment on the Harrell case when reached Monday. He would not even confirm he had been handed the investigation.
Separately, Wilson said in a brief interview that Harrell's version of events may not be the only version. "He's entitled to believe what he believes," Wilson told a Post and Courier reporter at an unrelated Charleston event Sunday. He did not elaborate on the status of the investigation or whether Pascoe is now handling the case.
Mark Powell, Wilson's spokesman, said the office would only reiterate its earlier statement. "We are unable to comment because the Supreme Court order directs that we are not to disclose these matters," Powell has said. When the state Supreme Court ruled in July, it said that anything related to the grand jury investigation into Harrell should be heard behind closed doors.
The Post and Courier's Glenn Smith and Amanda Kerr contributed to this report.