Lawyer asks high court to open attorney general’s secret filing

Secret filings by Attorney General Alan Wilson in his dispute with special prosecutor David Pascoe in an investigation of legislative corruption should be open to the public, The State newspaper’s lawyer, Jay Bender, said Monday.

Bender made that assertion in a hand-delivered letter to South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Costa Pleicones, who along with four associate justices will likely decide whether pleadings and hearings in the dispute will be open.

In the letter, Bender requested that the judges hold an open hearing – as court rules require – to inquire whether secrecy is necessary. “Any party seeking to close a hearing or seal a record bears the burden of establishing the necessity of such a drastic step in an open hearing,” Bender wrote.

The court has a “long history of of maintaining open court proceedings and records,” he added.

Bender said the dispute between Pascoe and Wilson doesn’t involve confidential criminal matters but is a jurisdictional disagreement about which there is no need for secrecy.

On March 25, Pascoe asked the five judges to order Wilson and his office to stop interfering with an ongoing investigation by Pascoe and State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel into alleged public corruption in the General Assembly.

Wilson’s office announced he mailed a confidential reply Friday to Pascoe’s legal action. In a press release, Wilson also said he was seeking to keep his answer secret unless the court makes it public. He said rules governing the state grand jury required him to file his answer under seal, but he does not oppose the release of his filings because it’s in the public interest for them to be open.

At issue in the dispute between Wilson and Pascoe is the future of an ongoing investigation into possible public corruption among unknown lawmakers.

Pascoe and Keel got approval from Circuit Judge Clifton Newman to activate the State Grand Jury. But Wilson and his office have ordered a key employee not to cooperate, effectively hamstringing the investigation, Pascoe charged in a March 25 filing with the court.

Normally, the State Grand Jury and its enhanced investigative powers – such as its ability to subpoena emails – are overseen by the attorney general. But Wilson and his office – citing conflicts-of-interest – recused themselves from the investigation last year and named Pascoe special prosecutor.

In the past month, Wilson learned that the investigation had reached the stage where Pascoe and Keel wanted to activate the State Grand Jury. Since then, Wilson has asserted he is the only one who can do that and accused Pascoe of usurping power.

Pascoe’s position is that Wilson recused himself once from the investigation, he can’t now re-inject himself into the probe. Wilson has told reporters he will appoint a new prosecutor and continues to assert Pascoe doesn’t have legal authority to activate a State Grand Jury.

“This matter implicates the integrity of all three branches of government,” Bender said in an interview. “It involves the executive branch office of the attorney general, the possibility of corruption in the Legislature and the judiciary, with the court being asked to resolve a dispute between the attorney general and the special prosecutor.”