Airing of Sanford report debated

10/07/2009 12:00 AM

03/30/2010 6:19 PM

Gov. Mark Sanford's right to due process will be violated if a state ethics panel investigating him is allowed to give state lawmakers considering his impeachment an early look at its findings, Sanford's lawyers argued to the state Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Sanford's attorneys are asking the state's highest court to block the State Ethics Commission from releasing the report, which is similar to an indictment and does not contain the governor's complete defense.

Ethics Commission attorneys argued Monday the court should dismiss Sanford's lawsuit as premature because the ethics panel has yet to complete or release the report.

S.C. House of Representatives attorneys Monday argued the court should require the Ethics Commission to turn over the report for lawmakers' use in weighing whether or not to impeach Sanford.

The Ethics Commission began investigating Sanford's use of state planes and other public resources and campaign contributions following his secret five-day trip to Argentina in June. The governor later admitted to an extramarital affair.

In Tuesday's filing, Sanford's attorney, Butch Bowers, argued the court should decide the case because the facts are not in dispute and the law requires commission staff eventually to submit a preliminary report to the nine-member commission.

In addition, Bowers wrote, the law requires the report remain confidential.

Sanford's due process rights, Bowers wrote, are at stake if the report is given to lawmakers or made public.

"The Ethics code unambiguously directs that contested cases must be kept confidential," Bowers wrote, "in order to prevent tampering with evidence and intimidation of witnesses, to insulate the Commission from being subject to undue pressure by the media or the General Assembly, and to preserve the public's confidence in the agency's proceedings."

Sanford's filing also challenges the Ethics Commission's position that the House becomes a prosecutor eligible to receive the report once the body begins impeachment hearings. The House argued Monday its members should be able to review the report prior to beginning impeachment.

The ethics process creates two tracks, Sanford's attorneys wrote, one for criminal violations and another for civil violations. Only criminal prosecutors, such as the state attorney general or local solicitors, can get the report, Bowers wrote, and impeachment is neither a criminal nor a civil proceeding.

Ethics Commission director Herbert Hayden said staff planned to finish the investigation and submit the report to the commission by the end of October.

Traveling Tuesday in the Upstate, Sanford said he did not know the report had a due date.

"I didn't even know that was a time post," he said after a Rotary Club meeting in Easley. "It's not where I'm focused."

Sanford did say he does not think he has committed impeachable offenses.

"I think it would certainly be setting new historic precedent and ground," he said.

A handful of lawmakers said they plan to introduce impeachment resolutions because the governor left the state in secret. Those resolutions would be filed when the Legislature returns to Columbia in January, if lawmakers are not called back sooner.

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