First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe was given the go-ahead Wednesday by the state Supreme Court to proceed with a grand jury investigation of legislative ethics in the wake of the long-concluded Bobby Harrell case. Since Mr. Pascoe and State Law Enforcement Director Mark Keel were ready to do so in March, there should be no further delay in resolving those lingering issues too.
The state Supreme Court ruled by a 4-1 margin that Mr. Pascoe has the authority to bring the ethics case before the state grand jury despite Attorney General Alan Wilson’s efforts to block the solicitor. Mr. Wilson appointed Mr. Pascoe to act in his stead as a special prosecutor on the case involving then-House Speaker Harrell in late 2014. But Mr. Wilson attempted to reverse his decision four months ago.
The attorney general, citing leaks to the media, contended that Mr. Pascoe was “tainted” and attempted to dismiss him from the expanded ethics case. Mr. Wilson challenged the solicitor’s authority to take the matter to the state grand jury.
The court, however, ruled that the attorney general had appointed Mr. Pascoe for the duration and that, Mr. Wilson’s protestations to the contrary, he still has the job. Mr. Pascoe brought the Harrell investigation to a successful conclusion, with a plea agreement for the resignation of the speaker, repayment of campaign funds and a fine. The speaker also agreed to assist in the continuing review of House ethics issues.
The court ruled that, as Mr. Wilson’s designee, Mr. Pascoe has the authority of the attorney general’s office to impanel the state grand jury to continue that investigation.
The probe into the former speaker’s misuse of campaign funds also raised questions about two other legislators whose names were redacted in the 2014 SLED report.
The court determined that “nothing in the exhibits before this Court suggests that Pascoe’s authority in the redacted legislators matter did not include all the power of the Attorney General, including the impaneling of a state grand jury.”
The resumption of the investigation by the state grand jury, as intended by Mr. Pascoe, should finally put this case on course for a resolution.
That would serve to settle long-standing ethics questions and, in doing so, remove a cloud over the Legislature.
In his petition to the Supreme Court, Mr. Pascoe said the initial findings indicated the potential for “alleged finance crimes and ethical violations.”
One of the primary responsibilities of the grand jury is investigating public corruption. In doing so, the grand jury has subpoena power and the ability to compel testimony.
The deck is now clear to put the grand jury to work on resolving ethics questions that were first raised almost two years ago.
It’s time to tie up the loose ends from this already extended investigation.