S.C. high court poised to decide whether House should get findings

Sanford ethics report ruling nears

joconnor@thestate.comNovember 3, 2009 

  • What's next

    The S.C. Supreme Court is expected to act as early as this week. The court does not have a timetable by which it must act. The court could:

    - Agree with Sanford and block the report

    - Deny Sanford's request for court intervention without comment

    - Deny Sanford's request for court intervention and issue an opinion

After two weeks of legal back and forth, the S.C. Supreme Court is now set to decide if Gov. Mark Sanford can shield from House lawmakers an investigative report looking into the governor's travel.

Sanford's attorneys argued Monday the State Ethics Commission and House of Representatives failed to prove the governor chose to waive confidentiality and release a preliminary investigative report.

The brief is the final in a series requested by the South Carolina Supreme Court as it decides whether or not the Ethics Commission can turn over the results of its investigation to lawmakers considering impeaching Sanford. The governor has argued releasing the report, which would include charges against Sanford but not his defense, would violate his due process rights.

The Ethics Commission is reviewing Sanford's use of state planes and other public resources. A news media review of Sanford's travels was prompted by the governor's five-day June disappearance to Argentina and his later admission of an extramarital affair.

The court asked the House, State Ethics Commission and Sanford's attorneys to debate whether the governor broadly waved confidentiality in the ethics probe - including the preliminary report - in an Aug. 28 letter to the commission. Subjects of an ethics investigation are entitled to privacy under S.C. law while an investigation is under way.

In Monday's filing, Sanford's attorneys wrote that the House is trying to use contract law in a disagreement over waiver law. The legislators' argument, Sanford's attorneys wrote, amounts to "strawmen arguments about irrelevant topics."

Sanford's attorneys noted the Ethics Commission agreed that Sanford intended only to waive confidentiality in order to acknowledge the existence of an investigation and its scope.

"Because the (House) Speaker's arguments are without legal or factual support," Sanford's attorney's wrote, "they should be disregarded."

Last week the House argued Sanford's letter represented a contract, and the House contends it has the right to review the typically confidential preliminary report.

The Ethics Commission expects the preliminary report could be completed this week. From there, the commission will decide whether Sanford committed criminal, ethical or no violations of state law.

It is unclear when the court will decide the case, but the parties expect a decision this week.

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

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