A state representative’s trial on drunken-driving charges was delayed Wednesday after a judge ruled attorneys from the state Department of Public Safety had no authority to prosecute the case.
State Rep. Ted Vick, D-Chesterfield, was scheduled to stand trial for the second of his two pending driving-under-the-influence charges. Vick was arrested May 14 after a state Bureau of Protective Services officer said he saw Vick stumbling in the State House parking garage. Vick later got in his truck and started to drive off, hitting a traffic cone, before the officer stopped him.
Vick’s attorney, S.C. House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, has argued Vick was not drunk but had a pebble in his shoe.
Public Safety, which oversees the Bureau of Protective Services, sent two attorneys to prosecute the case Wednesday in Richland County Magistrate’s Court, a rarity because police officers often act as prosecutors in such cases.
But, just before the trial was to begin, Rutherford told Magistrate Valerie R. Stroman the two Public Safety attorneys could not show up and act as prosecutors, citing S.C. law that says only the state attorney general and local solicitors have the authority to prosecute cases for the state.
Rutherford said the 5th Circuit solicitor’s office has a full-time prosecutor for DUI cases, and the only way anyone other than the arresting officer could prosecute the case was if they had written permission from the solicitor.
After a brief recess to research the law, Stroman agreed with Rutherford, saying Vick’s trial could continue but the officer who made the arrest would have to prosecute the case. The officer declined because Public Safety plans to appeal Stroman’s ruling to circuit court.
“It is a total waste of money for the Department of Public Safety to send four lawyers” – counting two others who were present but not prosecuting the case – “down here when the solicitor already assigned someone to prosecute DUI cases,” Rutherford said after the hearing. “This shows the prejudice and bias this agency has had against my client from the very beginning.”
Catherine Fant, the lead Public Safety attorney handling the case, disagreed with the magistrate’s ruling.
She said if Rutherford’s interpretation of the law was correct, it would mean no police officer could prosecute a case in magistrate’s court, including speeding tickets and criminal domestic violence cases, without having written permission from the local solicitor. That, Fant said, would be “an absurd result.”
Fant declined to comment after the hearing. A Public Safety spokeswoman declined further comment, saying the agency’s appeal would “constitute the department’s legal position on the matter.”
Vick, a former Democratic candidate for Congress, also was charged with drunken driving in Five Points last year. That case is pending.
Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.