Hearing on House Speaker Bobby Harrell ethics investigation scheduled for Friday

House Speaker Bobby Harrell

The legal fight over who, where and how to investigate House Speaker Bobby Harrell goes back in front of a judge Friday, some six weeks after the first courtroom appearance.

The State Grand Jury's clerk said a hearing is set for 11 a.m. in front of Circuit Judge L. Casey Manning at the Richland County Courthouse.

Harrell's attorneys are expected to argue that any ethics-related complaint against Harrell, R-Charleston, should be heard by his peers on the House's ethics panel, not by a state court.

It is a continuation of a fight that began March 21 when Harrell's legal team argued that Attorney General Alan Wilson should be removed from the case based on what they said was a conflict of interest and malicious prosecution.

Critics worry that any alteration of the investigative path would kill the probe into Harrell, given the powerful speaker's influence in the S.C. Legislature. Harrell has been accused of using his campaign funds for personal use, among other allegations.

Wilson in January announced the State Grand Jury would investigate whether Harrell should be indicted. The move came months after an investigation by The Post and Courier into Harrell's money and finances, and in the wake of complaints raised by several public interest groups.

Meanwhile Thursday, a representative of one of those groups, Common Cause of South Carolina, said he feared what might happen if the court dueling drags on - potentially to the state Supreme Court - if one side doesn't like a particular ruling or twist.

John Crangle, director of Common Cause in Columbia, said the case has the potential to go off in different directions.

"This is a nasty mess because the judge has some really tough things to deal with, politically and legally," Crangle said Thursday.

State police began looking at Harrell after S.C. Policy Council President Ashley Landess, who runs the small government advocacy group, filed a complaint alleging that Harrell used his influence to get a permit for his pharmaceutical business.

Other allegations stem from a 2012 Post and Courier report that raised accusations that Harrell couldn't account for money withdrawn from his campaign, and that he had used his campaign account for personal expenses.

The newspaper's report pointed to generic descriptions Harrell gave on quarterly campaign filings to explain his reimbursements.

Harrell said at that time that he followed the state ethics law, which requires forms to provide a "brief description" of each expense, and that he would be more specific going forward.