“Taking a flop on the basketball court is one thing. Doing it as a judge is something else. The Supreme Court should review the tape and reverse the call.” — City Watch, May 21
And so it did. In a decision that upheld both the rule of law and the power of the attorney general to prosecute crime in South Carolina, the state Supreme Court unanimously overturned Circuit Judge Casey Manning’s embarrassing decision in Wilson v. Harrell that put state legislators above the criminal justice system.
In a staggering blow to political conspiracy theorists, the Supreme Court ruled 5-0 that the attorney general can continue the grand jury investigation into alleged wrongdoing by the House speaker. This followed an earlier 5-0 decision in which the justices reversed Manning’s ruling that the grand jury investigation must be halted while the case was on appeal.
So, in two consecutive unanimous decisions, the justices have refused to stop the grand jury’s work on the Harrell case. When it comes to the Supreme Court and Wilson v. Harrell, it’s been a tough couple of months for the conspiracy crowd. Of course, that crowd is now fixated on a footnote in the Supreme Court ruling — but more on that in a future column.
“The question is whether Manning will make the legal free throw or choke at the judicial foul line.” — City Watch, May 7
And so it is again. While affirming the power of the office of the attorney general, the Supreme Court returned the case to Manning for a ruling on whether this specific attorney general (Alan Wilson) should be disqualified from the case due to his alleged bias against this specific House speaker (Bobby Harrell). That was the basis of the original motion filed by Harrell’s attorneys, which had nothing to do with Manning’s made-up mockery of the state constitution that the Supreme Court rightly reversed.
Since a hearing on the matter of Wilson’s alleged bias was held prior to Manning’s unrelated, unbelievable and now undone ruling in the case, we know what Harrell and his attorneys presented as evidence to disqualify the attorney general. And it’s weak.
A young aide to Harrell, attorney Brad Wright, testified that he met with Wilson, who made threats against Harrell if the speaker did not support an ethics reform bill Wilson wanted passed. As reported by The State, he testified that Wilson told him “he had friends with deep pockets who could make this an issue if he had to.” Wright said he considered Wilson’s statement a threat and “left the meeting so shaken he talked to fellow lawyers at the time and wrote a memo about it,” according to The State.
Wilson said he did indeed want the bill passed, but denied making any threats or saying he had friends with deep pockets who could hurt Harrell, etc. Further, under cross examination, Wright admitted he did not include the “friends with deep pockets” allegation in his memo about the meeting. An odd thing to forget.
Moreover, when asked directly by Manning: “Was there a quid pro quo as a result of the meeting?” — which would be evidence of an improper and illegal offer by Wilson — Wright answered: “No, sir.”
So, the question before Manning this time is whether the convenient but inconsistent testimony of an aide to Harrell should be the basis for disqualifying Wilson from the case. With that and only that to go on — coupled with Wilson’s denial under oath that he did anything other than convey support for a much-needed new ethics law — the decision should not be difficult for Manning.
The case should move forward with Wilson in charge of it — which is not to say Harrell is guilty of anything. As I have repeatedly written, this is about process, not outcome. If indicted, Harrell will get his day in court and the opportunity to prove his innocence.
As he prepares his ruling this time, I would say to Judge Manning the same thing I did on May 7 prior to his first decision: “It’s a free throw, Casey. Sink it. Nothing but net.”
Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics.
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