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SC Judge: Attorney General Can't Prosecute House Speaker Before House Ethics Committee Acts

In South Carolina, a judge ruled Monday that state Attorney General Alan Wilson overstepped his authority in trying to prosecute South Carolina Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell. The judge ruled that ethics complaints must go through a legislative committee first.

State judge Casey Manning ruled that before South Carolina’s attorney general can bring a criminal case against a state lawmaker, state lawmakers have to first determine there is a criminal case.

Attorney General Alan Wilson tried to bring a public corruption case against House Speaker (and fellow Republican) Bobby Harrell.  But Harrell’s lawyers insisted the case must go through the House Ethics Committee first.

The judge agreed and cited an earlier South Carolina Supreme Court ruling that said, "It is clear the legislature intended the respective ethics committees to have exclusive authority to hear alleged ethics violations of its own members and staff."

Judge Manning also noted that Attorney General Wilson failed to show the court any allegations against Speaker Harrell that were criminal in nature. Manning said since the allegations concern ethics, they’re civil in nature.

Now if the House Ethics Committee finds criminal allegations against Speaker Harrell, that committee is supposed to refer the case back to Attorney General Wilson.