In a court hearing rife with barely restrained anger, special prosecutor David Pascoe Wednesday asked the judge overseeing former state Rep. Rick Quinn’s public corruption case to excuse herself from the proceedings.
Special prosecutor David Pascoe said Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen should quit the case because of missteps she made in sentencing the former Lexington state representative to probation.
“This was going to be a golden opportunity for the state of South Carolina, in a public corruption case, to send the most corrupt legislator up there to prison for up to a year,” Pascoe said, referring to the former House majority leader.
Judge Mullen called Wednesday’s hearing to hear Pascoe’s motions to reconsider or vacate the sentence of probation that she gave Quinn on Feb. 12.
However, Pascoe upped the stakes asking Mullen to quit the case. The special prosecutor and defense attorneys also exchanged barbs, with Pascoe alleging the defense attorneys had held improper out-of-courtroom discussions with the judge.
“If you make allegations like that, Mr. Pascoe, you better have something to back it up,” Mullen warned Pascoe.
Pascoe also said the judge’s court reporter, who keeps a stenographic record of the proceedings, had criticized him on social media. The court reporter has been removed. However, Pascoe cited the criticism as another reason Mullen should step down.
Mullen refused to quit the case, a move called a recusal, during the hearing at the Beaufort County courthouse.
Mullen also told Pascoe that any blame for Quinn’s light sentence rests with him and how he put his case together — dropping nearly all the charges against the Republican before his guilty plea in mid-December.
“As far as I know, he (Quinn) has never confessed to anything else,” Mullen told Pascoe.
Mullen did not indicate when she might rule on Pascoe’s motion to reconsider or vacate Quinn’s sentence.
‘Our reputations, our integrity’
Pascoe did win one victory.
Two weeks ago, Mullen refused to let the special prosecutor speak as she sentenced Quinn to one year on probation, 500 hours of community service and a $1,000 fine. Quinn also resigned his House seat, which he had held some 20 years.
Mullen let Pascoe speak at length Wednesday, putting on the record all his objections to her sentence and his request for her recusal.
Pascoe and Quinn’s defense lawyers also traded criticisms.
At one point, as Pascoe was accusing the defense attorneys of ethical lapses, two of Quinn’s lawyers, Matthew Richardson and Johnny Gasser, rose so suddenly from their chairs that Judge Mullen called a 10-minute recess.
After the recess, an indignant Gasser told Mullen there had been no improper out-of-court communications between the defense and the judge. He also denied another Pascoe allegation — that defense lawyers had fabricated a story that a key witness, Columbia lawyer Kevin Hall, had given a statement exonerating Rick Quinn. In fact, Pascoe told Mullen, Hall recently had given the special prosecutor a sworn statement saying he had not given the defense any such statement.
“He (Pascoe) attacked us and just assumes that we are attempting to mislead the court,” Gasser said, adding defense attorneys would not risk “our reputations, our integrity” with every judge in South Carolina. “We have not. We did not.”
‘You should have tried this case’
Wednesday’s hearing came after Pascoe filed a “motion to reconsider,” asking Judge Mullen to give Quinn a stiffer sentence.
A tougher sentence was warranted, Pascoe said, because the former S.C. House majority leader’s misdeeds “go far beyond the facts for which (Quinn) is willing to accept responsibility.”
At a Dec. 13 guilty plea hearing before Mullen, Pascoe gave a long statement of Quinn’s alleged misdeeds, augmented by a slide show of documents and diagrams, centering around Quinn’s work with his father’s influential political strategy firm, Richard Quinn & Associates.
Pascoe alleged Rick Quinn, while a legislator, made millions by secretly working on behalf of the high-profile business clients of his father’s company. Those clients had business before the Legislature.
Pascoe argued Wednesday that Mullen had “poisoned” Quinn’s plea by not giving any weight to the prosecution’s overview of his alleged crimes over a seven-year period when he was in the Legislature.
Once a defendant has pleaded guilty to a broad charge, as Quinn did to a charge of misconduct in office, a judge is allowed to take into account all the evidence a prosecutor puts forward, Pascoe argued.
But Quinn, under a plea deal agreed to by the defense and prosecution, only admitted to one narrow offense under the broad charge. Because of that limited admission, Mullen told Pascoe that she would not give any weight to the other offenses that Pascoe alleges.
“He (Quinn) denied each and every one of those allegations,” Mullen told Pascoe. “He may have done all of those things. ... But it hasn’t been proven to me beyond a reasonable doubt.”
If Pascoe had wanted to get those allegations before her, “You should have tried this case,” Mullen told the special prosecutor.
‘Trying to score political points’
Pascoe’s four-year-old State House corruption probe seemingly culminated with the indictment last fall of Quinn, his father Richard Quinn and their S.C. political influence machine, known informally as “the Quinndom.” Both father and son were indicted by the Pascoe-led state grand jury on felony counts, including criminal conspiracy.
Richard Quinn, 73, secretly paid state lawmakers more than $1.3 million over the years to push legislation for his clients, Pascoe told a judge last October. Those clients included the embattled SCANA utility, Palmetto Health, the S.C. Ports Authority, the S.C. Trial Lawyers, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, payday lenders, the gambling industry and others, Pascoe said.
Meanwhile, then-state Rep. Rick Quinn secretly was paid by his father to help in the scheme, pushing legislation through the General Assembly, Pascoe alleged, calling the younger Quinn, 52, the “worst of the worst” in the Legislature.
The plea deal, agreed to by Pascoe, allowed Rick Quinn to plead guilty to the misdemeanor charge of misconduct in office.
Under that deal, the younger Quinn only admitted to a narrow technical violation – failing to report income from the University of South Carolina, which lobbies the Legislature.
Richard Quinn’s political strategy firm also agreed to pay a $2,500 fine for failing to register as a lobbyist. He also agreed to testify before the state grand jury in Pascoe’s ongoing State House corruption investigation.
All other charges against both men were dropped.
Following Wednesday’s hearing, Rick Quinn told reporters outside the courthouse that Pascoe is “trying to score political points with the media.”
That is “more important with him than actually getting to the truth,” Quinn said of Pascoe.