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Supreme Court: Attorney General May Continue Grand Jury Investigation of House Speaker Robert (Bobby) Harrell, Jr

On July 9, 2014, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that the state grand jury has subject matter jurisdiction to investigate a violation of the Ethics, Government Accountability, and Campaign Reform Act. (Ethics Act). See Harrell v. Att’y Gen. of S.C. (In re State Grand Jury Investigation), No. 2014-001058, 2014 WL 3375730, at *1,*6 (S.C. July 9, 2014).

The supreme court reversed the circuit court’s order finding that the power to conduct legislative ethics investigations concerning members of the Legislature rests solely with the Legislature (in this case, the House Ethics Committee) to the exclusion of the courts. See id. at *1. Noting that “[t]he Attorney General as the State’s chief prosecutor may decide when and where to present an indictment,” the court stated that “the status of a House Ethics Committee investigation cannot affect the Attorney General’s decision regarding a criminal prosecution.” Id. at *4–5. (quoting State v. Thrift, 312 S.C. 282, 292, 440 S.E.2d 341, 346 (1994)).

The court held that “the Attorney General’s investigation is not circumscribed by the nature of the complaint that triggered the investigation, and whether or not it arises as an alleged violation of the Ethics Act is irrelevant.” Id. at *5. The court remanded the case to the circuit court for a determination of whether the Attorney General should be disqualified from the grand jury proceedings, an issue the circuit court failed to address when it wrongly dismissed the case. See id. at *1, *6.

The court’s ruling allows Attorney General Alan Wilson to continue the grand jury investigation against Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell for alleged ethics violations including misuse of campaign funds.

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