Sanford accused of delay tactics

House attorneys respond to governor's attempts to bar lawmakers, public from preliminary findings

gnsmith@thestate.comOctober 10, 2009 

COLUMBIA, SC FRIDYA, JUNE 26, 2009 ERIK CAMPOS---South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford apologizes to his Cabinet members during a meeting in Columbia, SC on Fri. June 26, 2009. This was Sanford's first official public business conducted since confessing to an extramarital affair with a woman from Argentina. Erik Campos/ecampos@thestate.com

FILE PHOTO/THE STATE

In court papers filed Friday, attorneys for the S.C. House of Representatives argued embattled Gov. Mark Sanford is attempting to set a dangerous precedent of delay tactics that future elected officials could use to avoid impeachment.

Friday, House attorneys responded to Sanford's court filing made last week. Sanford is attempting to bar lawmakers and the public from viewing preliminary findings of a state Ethics Commission investigation into Sanford's use of private and state aircraft, his purchase of pricey plane tickets and his use of campaign funds.

Sanford's attorneys have argued the release of the preliminary findings will not contain Sanford's response to the allegations and could be used to undermine him politically and legally if given to lawmakers.

The two sides are expected to hash it out Oct. 19 before the state Supreme Court.

Big picture, the commission's findings - effectively an indictment - may be used by the S.C. House to attempt to impeach the two-term governor.

"Any official action by the House (to impeach) will be based on the findings of the Ethics Commission," Greg Foster, spokesman for House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said Friday.

Sanford has been under fire since June after admitting to a secret five-day trip to Buenos Aires to visit his Argentine lover.

Since then, questions have been raised about Sanford's use of state aircraft and other state resources and self-reimbursements to his campaign fund.

The questions led to an investigation by the state Ethics Commission.

Sanford contends state law only allows those with prosecutorial powers including the state attorney general the right to see preliminary reports produced by the commission.

He argues the Ethics Commission's final report, reached after the commission endorses or rejects the validity of the evidence in the preliminary report, should be made public.

But the House's attorneys say both the state and U.S. constitutions grant the House the ability to impeach. Since that's a form of prosecution, the House should get the preliminary report.

Meanwhile, State Ethics Commission attorneys have argued the court should dismiss Sanford's suit because it was filed prematurely.

Reach Smith at (803) 771-8658.

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