S.C. High Court Rules AG Can’t Lead Corruption Probe

     (CN) — The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled against the state’s attorney general Wednesday, finding that a special prosecutor can lead a corruption investigation involving state lawmakers.
     David Pascoe, solicitor of the state’s First Judicial Circuit, was appointed by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson to serve as “designated prosecutor” in the investigation and prosecution of Bobby Harrell, former speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives.
     Harrell pleaded guilty to misconduct-related charges in October 2014 for his use of campaign funds for personal expenses and false reporting of candidate disclosures. He resigned from office and was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to pay $93,000 in restitution.
     Pascoe then sought to initiate a state grand jury investigation into possible corruption by other state lawmakers, who are referred to in court documents are “redacted legislators.”
     South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson recused himself from any potential investigation, and passed such authority onto John McIntosh, chief deputy attorney general, according to court records. Wilson reportedly said in an email that “there might be inherent conflicts between myself and members of the house.”
     But McIntosh said in a July 2015 letter to Mark Keel, chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED, that Wilson had actually recused the entire attorney general’s office. Keel understood this to mean he should deal exclusively with Pascoe regarding the potential investigation, court records show.
     In March of this year, Pascoe and Keel authorized a state grand jury proceeding over the corruption investigation. But later that month, McIntosh “expressed concern as to Pascoe’s authority to initiate a state grand jury investigation,” according to court papers.
     A March 28 letter from McIntosh to Pascoe purported to terminate all authority delegated to Pascoe in the investigation, saying the solicitor “unlawfully” attempted to initiate a grand jury investigation.
     Pascoe petitioned the state’s high court, asking it to declare that he was vested with the proper authority to move forward with the investigation.
     The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled 4-1 in Pascoe’s favor Wednesday, finding that the attorney general’s office was recused from the probe and Pascoe’s attempt to initiate a grand jury proceeding was lawful.
     “The initial correspondence from the attorney general’s office to both Pascoe and Chief Keel in July 2015, stated, without reservation, that the attorney general’s office was recused from the redacted legislators investigation, leaving only Pascoe as the state’s highest prosecutor in that matter,” Chief Justice Costa Pleicones wrote for the court. (Emphasis in original).
     In addition, “the exhibits demonstrate that high level officials at the attorney general’s office repeatedly stated that the matter was solely within Pascoe’s authority,” Pleicones wrote.
     Pascoe’s initiation of a grand jury proceeding was lawful because he was acting with the authority of Wilson’s office, Wednesday’s ruling states.
     Justices Donald Beatty, John Kittredge and Kaye Hearn joined Pleicones in the majority.
     Justice John Few dissenting, saying there was confusing as to whether the entire attorney general’s office was recused from leading the investigation.
     “I would instruct the presiding judge of the circuit court to answer this key factual question—whether the Attorney General has an actual conflict of interest—after which the presiding judge may direct the proceedings accordingly,” Few wrote. “In all likelihood, the result would be the same. However, because I believe the law requires we follow a different procedure to reach that point, I respectfully dissent.”
     A spokesperson for Wilson told local news outlets, “We respect the court’s decision and will abide by it.”

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