SUMMERVILLE — State Sen. Randy Scott's politically charged driving under the influence trial got off to a dramatic start Wednesday as his attorneys called the out-of-town prosecutors "hired guns" and asked the judge to disqualify them.
Columbia Magistrate Phillip Newsome denied the motion, saying it would have delayed the trial for months and probably would not have made a difference.
Scott asked for a jury trial after an April 19 arrest that he has said was set up to hurt his chances for re-election. Scott faces former state Sen. Mike Rose in the June 10 primary, the results of which will decide the election because there is no Democratic candidate. Scott asked for a trial before the election.
Dorchester County Sheriff Ray Nash asked 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe to handle the case, even though arresting officers normally argue DUI cases. Pascoe said he recused himself to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest and asked 7th Circuit Solicitor Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg to handle the case instead, because Gowdy specializes in prosecuting DUI cases. Deputy Solicitor Barry Barnette is leading the prosecution.
Jury selection and motions got under way Wednesday. Scott's lawyers questioned why Spartanburg lawyers are prosecuting the case.
"What you have are hired guns," attorney Desa Ballard of West Columbia told the judge. "They shopped around for the best attorney."
Ballard argued that only the governor or attorney general can authorize a solicitor from another district, and no written approval for that was produced until Wednesday morning. Newsome ruled that he saw no evidence that other paperwork was required and he would allow the prosecutors.
A jury was selected late Wednesday afternoon and is set to be sworn in this morning. The six jurors and two alternates include six women and two men. Six are white and two are black.
The questions the attorneys gave the judge to weed out the jury pool reflected the political overtones of the case. Potential jurors were asked if any had ever contributed to or campaigned for or put up signs for Nash, Scott or Rose.
Nash said before the trial that his deputies handled the arrest as they would any other. Reese Joye, Scott's lead attorney, challenged that statement during arguments on motions after the jury was dismissed for the day. Newsome said the fact that deputies made 16 phone calls before pulling Scott shows a coordinated effort unlike any other DUI case. Nash is trying to get back at Scott because Scott's work while he was on County Council led to the audit of the Sheriff's Office, Joye said, adding that Nash is not running for re-election as a result.
"It's 100 percent political," Joye said. "If this were a simple DUI case, we wouldn't even be here."
Today, Joye is expected to try to convince the judge to throw out the case on alleged procedural violations. If the case goes to the jury, it could continue through Friday.
"Gentlemen, this is not your typical DUI case," Newsome said. "I'm willing to stay here however long this case takes."
Scott sat in the front by his defense team during the proceedings, leaning over to talk to his wife, confer with his lawyers or look around at relatives and friends in the courtroom. Nash sat on the other side of the room at the prosecution table.
Reach Dave Munday at email@example.com or 745-5862.