Republican activist John Rainey’s ethics allegations against GOP Gov. Nikki Haley may have life yet in the courts.
Haley was cleared twice of those allegations by the S.C. House Ethics Committee this spring. But the state Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of the dismissal of Rainey’s original lawsuit against the Lexington County Republican.
Fifth Circuit Judge Casey Manning ruled earlier this year that Rainey’s complaints — alleging Haley used her office as a state representative from 2006-10 for personal gain — were not appropriate for state court.
Manning said state ethics regulators should handle the complaints, alleging conflicts between Haley’s work as a legislator and her work as a fund-raiser for the Lexington Medical Foundation and a consultant for a Columbia engineering firm.
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Rainey took his allegations to the House Ethics Committee, which cleared Haley in May, after a closed-door session, and in June, after a two-day hearing that included 11 witnesses.
After Manning’s decision, Rainey’s lawyers asked the S.C. Court of Appeals to reconsider his ruling and then petitioned the Supreme Court to take the appeal directly, which it did.
The Supreme Court will not consider the allegations in the case — just whether ethics charges can be heard in state court. No hearing date has been set.
“I am delighted with the decision,” said Rainey, a Camden attorney and businessman.
If Haley wins before the Supreme Court, Rainey said he is unsure what — if anything — he will do next.
The governor’s office said Monday that it was not surprised Rainey and his attorney Dick Harpootlian, the state Democratic Party chairman, petitioned the Supreme Court.
“From our perspective, this just means we’ll have yet another dismissal of these baseless claims sooner than we would have” had the case gone from the Court of Appeals and, then, the state Supreme Court, Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said. “There isn’t anything more to this than the day John Rainey launched his witch hunt.”
Rainey was the head of the state’s economic advisory board under former Gov. Mark Sanford and has been an active fund-raiser for recent GOP presidential candidates.
Sanford backed Haley’s campaign to succeed him. However, Rainey’s relationship with Haley soured after they met at his Camden farm during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
Rainey said Haley became unnerved when he raised questions about her outside jobs. Haley, the daughter of immigrants from India, said Rainey made an insulting comment about her family’s heritage.
Though she sent a thank-you card to Rainey after their meeting, Haley called him a bigot during her testimony at the ethics hearing.
“He should retire to his plantation and let the rest of us continue to embrace the 21st century,” Godfrey said Monday.