Circuit Judge John Hayes III set an $18,000 personal recognizance bond Monday on suspended House Speaker Bobby Harrell in a Richland County courtroom.
A lawyer for Harrell, who will not be able to leave the state without permission, then asked for and was granted court permission for Harrell to attend a University of South Carolina-Kentucky football game this Saturday.
Harrell, 58, was accompanied by his lawyer Bart Daniel, who spoke for the suspended speaker. Also present was Trey Harrell, Harrell’s son, who works for a Columbia law firm.
After the hearing, Harrell went to a small, closed room off the courtroom, signed paperwork related to his bond and left the courthouse, his face grim.
“I haven’t got anything to say at this time,” he told a dozen reporters as he walked by without stopping.
At the 10-minute hearing, 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe recited to the judge the charges against Harrell. One of the charges is “common-law misconduct in office,” Pascoe told Hayes, noting that charge “carries a 10-year prison sentence.” Harrell was indicted Sept. 9 by a Richland County grand jury.
Harrell is believed to be the first sitting speaker of the House indicted in state history.
During the hearing, Pascoe gave Daniel a computer flash drive containing some 32,000 pages of investigative material concerning Harrell. That material, although Pascoe did not explicitly say so, apparently contains a massive SLED report on Harrell completed in late 2013.
Now, the SLED case file also includes Harrell’s booking photo and fingerprints, both of which were taken after Monday’s hearing, said SLED spokesman Thom Berry. That photo will not be released to the public until after the case is closed, he added.
U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles attended court Monday along with State Attorney General Alan Wilson. Neither commented after the hearing.
Harrell’s silence Monday was in stark contrast to public statements he’s made to the media for months, in which he has loudly insisted he is the subject of a witch hunt, that the interest by law enforcement in his affairs is politics gone wild, and that he has done nothing wrong.
Harrell’s appearance Monday was a climax to a long legal odyssey in which it had appeared that first a state judge and then the S.C. Supreme Court’s five justices were either trying to prevent Harrell from facing criminal charges or were throwing legal roadblocks in the way. Judges and justices are elected by the 170-member state legislature, and Harrell is a key player in rounding up votes for the judiciary.
To prosecute Harrell, Pascoe had to maneuver around the state Supreme Court, Circuit Judge Casey Manning and Harrell’s lawyers, Daniel and Gedney Howe, both of Charleston, who are regarded as two of the state’s best criminal lawyers, said John Crangle, executive director of Common Cause of South Carolina.
“Pascoe did an end run – he outfoxed the Supreme Court, and he also outfoxed Harrell’s legal team,” said Crangle, who along with the limited-government think tank the S.C. Policy Council, made complaints against Harrell in 2013.
Those complaints convinced Wilson to ask for a SLED investigation.
In January, Wilson announced he would activate a state grand jury, which has subpoena powers, to investigate Harrell. At that time, SLED Chief Mark Keel and Judge Manning both joined Wilson in that request.
Wilson’s investigation ran into roadblocks when Harrell’s lawyers, Daniel and Howe, filed secret court motions to disqualify Wilson. That behind-the-scenes legal dispute was forced into the open by The State newspaper, which revealed that Harrell’s lawyers were trying to shut down an ongoing criminal investigation.
Last spring, Manning held public hearings and basically disqualified Wilson and shut down the grand jury. Wilson appealed to the state Supreme Court, which in July kicked the dispute back to Manning’s court.
At that time, Wilson – facing almost certain defeat in Manning’s court – got the Supreme Court’s approval to transfer the case to an independent prosecutor: Pascoe. Harrell’s lawyers agreed with the transfer.
Pascoe got the case July 24 and consulted with Keel. In August, Manning signed off giving Pascoe full authority on the case. In early September, Manning agreed to allow Pascoe to take the matter to a county grand jury instead of the state grand jury.
Asked why Wilson was in court since Pascoe is now an independent prosecutor, a spokesman for Wilson’s office said, “The attorney general’s office has been involved since the beginning of this case, and will remain involved until its conclusion.” Under the state Constitution, the attorney general has oversight authority over all prosecutions in the state.
The nine counts against Harrell charge him with illegally using campaign money for his personal expenses, filing false campaign disclosure reports and misconduct in office.
According to the indictments, Harrell used more than $90,000 in campaign contributions to pay the expenses of his personal airplane and another $70,286 to pay the salary of an unnamed administrative assistant who works for his State Farm insurance business. To cover up his improper expenses, Harrell created records of flights that he said were for state business when the trips “did not occur or were personal,” according to one charge.
In all, Harrell paid himself “campaign funds totaling approximately $294,335.22 in untaxed income,” according to that charge.
“I have said all along that I have never intentionally violated any law, and I still strongly believe that statement to be accurate,” Harrell said after his indictment.
Judge Hayes’ decision Monday to let Harrell leave the state for a football game was not unusual. Judges routinely grant such requests by people on bond. But before saying it was all right for Harrell to leave the state, Hayes noted Harrell posed no danger to the community nor was he a flight risk.
And Hayes allowed with a smile, that he, too, is a Gamecock fan. Hayes, a graduate of USC and the USC law school, was a former S.C. House member and state senator before becoming judge in 1991. Harrell also is a USC grad.