Agency: Sanford report should be aired

Lawyers file arguments with Supreme Court

gnsmith@thestate.comOctober 31, 2009 

The State Ethics Commission argued in court papers Friday that state law allows it to send the preliminary results of its investigation into allegations against Gov. Mark Sanford to House lawmakers, no matter whether Sanford waived his confidentiality rights.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the S.C. House of Representatives say Sanford unequivocally and completely waived his right to confidentiality. While that may be a decision Sanford now regrets, it is one he can't take back, they argue.

Lawyers for the Ethics Commission and the House got their final shots Friday at convincing the state Supreme Court that the preliminary results from an investigation into Sanford's travels and expenses can be made public.

"In short, the 'genie is out of the bottle,' " House lawyers wrote. "And Governor Sanford is trying to put the genie back in."

At issue is an investigation, being conducted by the State Ethics Commission, into Sanford's use of state planes for political and personal trips, as well as his use of campaign money.

Those investigations were started after Sanford vanished for five days in June to visit his lover in Argentina. On his return, the married Republican governor acknowledged an extramarital affair.

Sanford now wants the investigation's preliminary findings kept from the public.

But, in August, he wrote a letter to the Ethics Commission, waiving his right to confidentiality. "In an effort to once again go the extra mile, I would like to waive my right to confidentiality in your upcoming ethics probe," Sanford wrote in the letter.

Sanford's attorneys later said the governor's letter was meant only to allow the acknowledgment that an investigation was under way and an outline of its scope.

The two-term Republican governor since has said that releasing the findings, which would not contain his full response, could undermine his ability to defend himself against impeachment efforts by House lawmakers.

Sanford's attorneys also have argued the embattled governor could not approve the release of the investigative results, even if he wanted to, because state law prohibits such a release.

Cathy Hazelwood, attorney for the Ethics Commission, disagreed with Sanford's interpretation of the law and the intent of his Aug. 28 waiver letter.

"Governor Sanford's waiver of confidentiality, although more wordy and self-congratulatory than most respondents facing an ethics investigation, does not change the (Ethics) Commission's reliance on both the statute and the regulations when discussing what remains confidential and what does not when a respondent chooses to waive confidentiality," Hazelwood wrote.

Sanford's lawyers have until early next week to respond to the House and Ethics Commission arguments.

Then the Supreme Court must decide what to do with the case.

It could:

- Side with Sanford, keeping the preliminary report secret

- Authorize the report's release to the House, where members are threatening to start impeachment proceedings, or to the public

- Decide the issue is moot. Ethics Commission lawyers have argued that once the report is finished, Sanford still has a chance to argue to the commission that its initial findings should be kept secret.

Reach Smith at (803) 771-8658.

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