Special prosecutor David Pascoe says when former State Rep. Rick Quinn pleaded guilty to misconduct in office in December, he did so without actually admitting to any crime.
Therefore, says Pascoe in court filings made public Monday, Quinn should revise his guilty plea. Pascoe wants the Lexington Republican to make it clear that he intended to commit a crime when he failed to report that a business he was associated with received nearly $30,000 from the University of South Carolina.
Quinn’s crime was failure to disclose that payment, Pascoe says, adding it was legal for the business to take USC’s money.
Instead of admitting he willfully concealed the payment, Quinn pleaded guilty to a “mistake” in office rather than “misconduct” in office, according to a court filing with the State Grand Jury. Intent is a necessary element of a criminal action, Pascoe says.
If Quinn won’t admit he deliberately committed a crime, Pascoe is asking Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen to vacate – or set aside – the guilty plea that Quinn made on Dec. 13.
If that happens, Quinn could face trial.
Pascoe’s assertions are part of a heated behind-the-scenes legal battle – only now public – in which the prosecutor and Quinn’s lawyers accuse each other of bad faith, broken promises and misrepresentations. Their dispute centers on the actions of both the prosecution and defense before and at Quinn’s guilty plea hearing.
Also in the court filings made public Monday, Quinn’s lawyers Greg Harris and Matthew Richardson argue Pascoe now is suffering from “buyer’s remorse” and wishes to have the judge set aside Quinn’s plea. That would be wrong, they argue.
Pascoe “improperly seeks to undermine the guilty plea that was accepted,” the lawyers argue.
Before the Dec. 13 hearing, Pascoe had agreed to a statement drawn up by Quinn’s lawyers that was read at the hearing in which the former S.C. House majority leader admitted failing to report the payment from USC, which is a lobbyist principal — an entity that lobbies at the Legislature. Legislators are required to report payments from lobbyist principals.
Quinn’s lawyers say, that in fact, he did accept “criminal responsibility” under the law for his failure to disclose that the business he was associated with, Capitol Investments II, was paid nearly $30,000 from USC.
Pascoe’s push to set aside the guilty plea “is made more offensive by his unwillingness to accept responsibility for the plea,” Quinn’s lawyers argue. “No one plays a larger role in the factual basis for the plea than the prosecutor who must agree the facts meet the elements of his charge.”
As part of the plea deal, Quinn, 52, already has resigned from the House, where he was a representative for more than 20 years — from 1989 to 2000 and from 2005 to December. Quinn had a seat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee and was regarded as a power broker.
Ordinarily in a guilty plea hearing, a prosecutor states what the defendant is pleading guilty to. Then, the judge asks the defendant if the defendant is pleading guilty to that crime. The defendant must answer “yes” or the judge won’t proceed.
The December guilty plea was unusual. The criminal charge against Quinn was misconduct in office. That charge, Pascoe said at the hearing, included a broad range of illegal actions and involved Quinn received more than $4 million in payments he shouldn’t have received from 2010 to last year.
But during the nearly two-hour hearing, Quinn insisted he was pleading guilty only to a narrow slice of that broad charge.
At the hearing, Pascoe said he was “fine” with Quinn’s limited admission, according to a transcript
It was only during a later review of a transcript of the hearing that Pascoe realized Quinn’s guilty plea “may be flawed ... and must be remedied prior to sentencing,” according to one of the special prosecutor’s filings.
Since Quinn’s guilty plea six weeks ago, questions have been raised about why Judge Mullen has not yet sentenced the former state representative. The filings made public Monday appear to answer that question.
Another complication is Judge Mullen allowed Pascoe to make a lengthy presentation about Quinn’s seven years of alleged illegal conduct. Even though Quinn said he was not pleading guilty to all those allegations, Pascoe urged Mullen to use the allegations as the basis to send Quinn to prison.
Official misconduct carries a penalty of up to a year in prison.
However, Quinn’s lawyers are asking for probation. They also submitted a filing naming eight public officials who pleaded guilty to misconduct in office, all of whom received probation and no prison time.