Attorney General files secret reply to special prosecutor in SC Supreme Court

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson at his press conference March 30 in which he explained why he decided to fire special prosecutor David Pascoe.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson at his press conference March 30 in which he explained why he decided to fire special prosecutor David Pascoe. FILE PHOTGRAPH

Attorney General Alan Wilson on Friday mailed a secret reply to the state Supreme Court in response to special prosecutor David Pascoe’s petition that asks the high court to order Wilson and his office to stop interfering in an ongoing public corruption investigation in the S.C. General Assembly.

Friday was Wilson’s deadline to file.

Wilson’s reply, with an accompanying motion to have it sealed from public view, was a response to Pascoe’s openly filed petition to the court on March 25.

In that petition, Pascoe said an employee of Wilson’s, who controls key functions of the State Grand Jury, was refusing to obey Pascoe’s requests to do his duty, and those refusals were jeopardizing an ongoing investigation into public corruption by Pascoe and State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel.

Although reporters waited at the S.C. Supreme Court until it closed at 5 p.m. on Friday, Supreme Court Clerk of Court Dan Shearouse told them that no one from the attorney general’s office had made a paper filing with the court.

However, Shearouse said, Wilson could have mailed his response and, as long as the mailing was postmarked Friday, it would have met the court’s deadline. A Wilson spokeswoman later confirmed that Wilson had sent his filing by U.S. mail.

At stake in the dispute is no less than an ongoing, now halted, SLED investigation into public corruption in the General Assembly.

Wilson had 10 business days to formally reply to Pascoe’s petition.

Around 6:30 p.m. Friday, Wilson’s press secretary emailed The State newspaper a copy of a letter that Wilson had sent the Supreme Court, saying he was filing the reply under a motion to seal.

Citing a previous S.C. Supreme Court opinion that indicated matters pertaining to the State Grand Jury should be filed with a motion to seal, Wilson said he was filing his reply with such a motion “under an abundance of caution.”

However, Wilson said in his letter to the high court, “We have reviewed our filings and they do not contain information we believe needs to be maintained under seal. If the court agrees, we believe it is in the public interest for the (reply) and the attachments thereto to be disclosed. ...”

A brief statement from Wilson’s office characterized the attorney general’s response to Pascoe’s petition this way: “Our position is that Solicitor Pascoe has unlawfully filed his petition which is unfounded and without merit.”

Technically, the response to Pascoe was filed by Jim Parks, clerk of the State Grand Jury. But Parks is an employee of the attorney general’s office, and his actions are at the center of the dispute between Pascoe and Wilson.

Parks is charged with issuing State Grand Jury subpoenas and swearing in its prosecutors. But the Attorney General’s office has ordered Parks not to cooperate with Pascoe, effectively threatening to kill the investigation, Pascoe said in his March 30 petition asking the high to order Parks to do his job.

A State Grand Jury, which has powers such as subpoenaing emails, is much more powerful than an ordinary county grand jury.

Wilson’s silence Friday on the details of his reply was in marked contrast to a March 30 press conference in which Wilson denounced Pascoe for trying to usurp the attorney general’s authority by activating the State Grand Jury when only, by law, the attorney general can do that. Wilson angrily implied Pascoe was a second-rate prosecutor and charged that Pascoe was “tainted” without specifically explaining saying why.

At that time, Wilson also decried unnamed “cowards” and “liars” and “bloggers” who were out to destroy him. It was not clear who or what he was referring to.

The core issue is whether Wilson, who in July 2015 cited conflicts of interest and recused himself and his office from the investigation, now has the power to re-involve himself and get rid of Pascoe. Pascoe claims that because Wilson handed the investigation off to him because of conflicts of interest, he cannot now try to exercise a veto power of Pascoe’s and SLED’s investigation. Wilson claims Pascoe is “unlawfully” trying to activate a State Grand Jury.

The legal dispute exploded into public view two weeks ago when The State disclosed Pascoe had, in a March 25 petition to the Supreme Court, accused Wilson of shutting down a SLED and State Grand Jury investigation of alleged public corruption.

Since that disclosure, on March 28, Wilson has told Pascoe he is fired and held a press conference in which he lambasted the prosecutor. Wilson also said the petition Pascoe filed with the Supreme Court is “filled with half-truths, misinformation and at least one outright lie. A lie.”

Wilson’s office also announced that 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson would immediately replace Pascoe and become the new special prosecutor. However, Johnson told Wilson, saying that he could not accept the post because the matter was an ongoing legal dispute in the Supreme Court.

It is highly unusual for any lawyer to hold a press conference, as Wilson did, and accuse a lawyer on the opposite side of a legal action of being a liar. Normally, lawyers make their arguments before a judge in open court and refrain from public personal attacks on the opposing lawyer.

It is unknown whether the Supreme Court will take the case.

In his March 25 petition asking the justices to order Parks to do his job, Pascoe described Parks’ duties as being crucial to the investigation.

“Said refusals have the effect of preventing a State Grand Jury investigation into public corruption in a matter delegated to (Pascoe) by the Attorney General,” wrote Pascoe.

On March 30, Pascoe filed a second, more sweeping, petition in the Supreme Court, in which he said that Parks had refused to cooperate with the State Grand Jury investigation as “the result of direction by the Attorney General’s office.”

In that second filing, Pascoe is asking the high court to declare that since both Wilson and his office have recused themselves from the investigation into public corruption, they have no right now to intervene. Pascoe is also asking the high court to order Wilson and his office to “cease and desist from any further involvement in this matter.”

Wilson has until next Wednesday to reply to Pascoe’s second action.

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