Circuit Judge Casey Manning issued a big break to embattled House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston) late Monday, ordering an end to a state grand jury criminal investigation into charges of public corruption against the much-feared legislative boss.
In so doing, Manning ruled that the House Ethics Committee is the proper body for investigating ethics complaints against Harrell, knocking Attorney General Alan Wilson off the case. Advocates for good government have voiced fear over recent months that Manning would issue such a ruling and kick the case back to the House, where Harrell holds inestimable sway.
Wilson’s office issued a terse response to the ruling: “We believe today’s order of Judge Manning is without any foundation or support in the law. This Office will vigorously pursue all appellate remedies and will seek to continue this investigation.”
As Team Harrell has framed the case against the Speaker as a political brawl between an ambitious Wilson and an innocent Bobby, it couldn’t resist rubbing the former’s nose in it.
“This entire process — both the mishandling of this matter and the allegations made — reeks of politics. The Court’s ruling supports what we have said from the start, that these allegations are political and do not rise to the level of criminal wrongdoing, by stating in its ruling that: ‘Despite multiple requests, the Attorney General has failed to offer or present to the Court any evidence or allegations which are criminal in nature.’”
Oddly enough, some courtroom observers remember Wilson’s argument differently. Former Republican attorney general Charlie Condon told The State that Wilson had clearly informed Manning of potential criminal charges that would be outside the House Ethics Committee’s purview of civil ethics violations.
Meanwhile, John Crangle, Common Cause South Carolina’s government watchdog, has sent a letter to the state Supreme Court, suggesting Chief Justice Jean Toal recuse herself from hearing an appeal by Wilson, citing Harrell’s role in her recent re-election to lead the court as a significant conflict of interest.
Wilson told The Associated Press on Tuesday that his office is preparing an appeal as well as considering a request for Manning to reconsider his ruling. He also told The State he would not suspend the investigation as the judge had ordered.
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