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South Carolina News

Jun 16, 5:07 PM EDT

SC justices mulling prosecutor dispute in corruption case



COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- South Carolina's Supreme Court on Thursday presided over a public feud between the state's top prosecutor and a local solicitor who says that he has been empowered to initiate and utilize a state grand jury investigation into legislative corruption.

Solicitor David Pascoe has sued Attorney General Alan Wilson, arguing he has authority to open a state grand jury probe into ongoing corruption at the South Carolina Statehouse. That authority, Pascoe says, exists because Wilson previously turned a case over to him because of a possible conflict.

Instead of letting him do the job, Pascoe told the justices Thursday, the attorney general has turned his investigation into a political game.

"David Pascoe has been on this case for over a year," Pascoe said during the hour-long hearing. "The Attorney General's Office had this case for 19 months and did nothing with it."

Mitch Brown, a Columbia attorney representing Wilson, said state law allows only the attorney general to open a grand jury investigation. He argued Pascoe overstepped his authority and has no right to say he is a stand-in for the attorney general himself.

"That was an illegal act," Brown said of Pascoe moving to open a new state grand jury investigation in the ongoing corruption probe. "With all due respect, David Pascoe does not have the 'acting attorney general' powers that he claims to have."

The working relationship between the two prosecutors began in 2014, when, citing a conflict, Wilson picked Pascoe to head up the investigation of former House Speaker Bobby Harrell. That case culminated in the Republican's guilty plea to misdemeanor campaign-spending violations and resignation from office, as well as his pledge to cooperate in any ongoing investigations.

After Harrell's plea, state police released a heavily redacted investigative report. Eleven of the 42 pages were completely or mostly blacked out, with the State Law Enforcement Division citing a public records law provision exempting the release of information to be used in a future or likely law enforcement action. No other lawmakers have been charged, but the probe is ongoing.

In March, Wilson abruptly fired Pascoe after the prosecutor tried to open a state grand jury probe into the redacted portion, saying that's only something Wilson and the state police chief could authorize and decrying multiple media leaks about grand jury matters, which are conducted in secret.

In court on Thursday, Pascoe - who said he is likely the media's least favorite attorney, since he has refused to speak publicly about the case - vehemently denied those allegations, saying neither he nor anyone from his office had disseminated details of the redacted report.

Wilson left without speaking to reporters. Pascoe publicly thanked the court for hearing the case so quickly but otherwise had no comment.

Justices took the case in original jurisdiction, meaning that it didn't have to go through lower courts and the appellate process first. There is no timetable on when the high court will rule, although Chief Justice Costa Pleicones' parting remark before leaving the courtroom could imply a quick turnaround.

"Thank you for presenting us with this easy decision," he said, before leaving the bench.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/

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