Judge Will Take Time Deciding Who Gets Harrell Case

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Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Lawyers were in court again Friday arguing how to handle an ethics complaint against South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell.

It all started after a complaint was given to the Attorney General by the South Carolina Policy Council's Ashley Landess.

"We would never have brought this to anyone's attention if we did not believe that it rose to a criminal level," Landess said.

Actual violations, the current question aims to decide where the case should go and what state law says should happen to the complaint.

"Too important of an issue to shoot from the hip," said Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning at the hearing Friday.

Manning read the complaint written by Landess in the hearing but said he did not receive supporting documents that were passed over to the Attorney General's office.

"Who is our advocate if not the attorney general when we believe a crime has been committed?" Landess said. "It did seem to us that not only what we could see rose to that level, but there were additional matters we raised with the Attorney General that were not necessarily in the complaint."

Harrell's attorneys are trying to force the case to the House Ethics Committee by asking the court to prohibit the Attorney General from prosecuting the matter.

"All we've wanted since day one is to have the facts of this case come out, have it dealt with the way supposed to be dealt with," Harrell (R-Charleston) said after the hearing finished.

Both side discussed a 2011 ethics case against Governor Nikki Haley in their arguments.

The South Carolina Supreme Court upheld the opinion in that case, coincidentally written by Judge Manning, saying the House Ethics Committee and not a criminal court had jurisdiction over ethics complaints.

"It's the only case we have where the question was does this sort of complaint by a citizen against a, in that case former house member, have to go to the House Ethics Committee first?" said Attorney Jay Bender.

Bender filed a brief on behalf of WLTX to make sure hearings like the one today would be open, despite a probe by the State Grand Jury into the actual ethics violations.

While both parties brought up the case involving Haley, Bender says the circumstances in the Harrell complaint are different.

"This is a slightly different context because there's been a determination after a criminal investigation by SLED that there's enough material to go to the grand jury," he said.

SLED's criminal report has not been released to Harrell or WLTX.

Judge Manning says he'll take his time in making an opinion but could release one as early as next week.

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