High court to hear Sanford case

Justices to decide whether he can keep preliminary report from legislators

joconnor@thestate.comOctober 19, 2009 

South Carolina's highest court will hear arguments today about who can see a preliminary investigative report into Gov. Mark Sanford's use of planes and other resources.

Sanford has asked the court to prevent the State Ethics Commission from releasing its yet-to-be-completed report to anyone other than the state's attorney general or local solicitors.

In particular, Sanford does not want the preliminary report given to lawmakers. The two-term Republican governor has said releasing the report, which would not contain his full response, could undermine his ability to defend himself.

Sanford has been under scrutiny since June, when he left the state for a secret five-day trip to Argentina and lied to his staff about his whereabouts. Subsequently, the married father of four said he had been having an extramarital affair. Sanford's use of state planes for political and personal trips as well as his use of campaign funds then came under media scrutiny.

Some members of the S.C. House say Sanford's June trip amounted to abandoning his job. They say they will move to impeach the governor. However, House leaders say they want the Ethics Commission's report into the allegations against Sanford before considering impeachment and have asked the commission for it.

In briefs filed with the court, the House argues it is the only body that can begin impeachment hearings and should be allowed to see the report in order to decide whether to pursue impeachment.

Ethics Commission attorneys argue the court should reject Sanford's move to block release of the preliminary report because it has not yet been finished. They say Sanford can appeal any future decision to release the report to the nine-member Ethics Commission, appointed by Sanford.

Commission director Herbert Hayden expects the preliminary report will be finished by the end of the month.

This is Sanford's second high-stakes hearing in front of the S.C. Supreme Court this year. In June, the court ordered Sanford, then a rising Republican star, to accept $700 million in federal stimulus money that he had refused to accept.

Reach O'Connor at (803) 771-8358.

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