A S.C. judge ruled Tuesday that prominent political consultant Richard Quinn Sr. must testify before the state grand jury as part of a special prosecutor's ongoing probe into public corruption in the S.C. General Assembly.
Quinn's lawyer, Debbie Barbier of Columbia, had urged Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen to quash, or kill, a subpoena that the state grand jury had issued to Quinn.
But in a hearing at the Richland County Courthouse, Mullen overruled Barbier's objections that special prosecutor David Pascoe could not subpoena Quinn because Pascoe had not dismissed criminal charges against the onetime GOP kingmaker, part of a complex plea deal reached in December.
Pascoe dismissed those charges Monday.
Near the end of a 37-minute hearing, Mullen said, "We're not going to quash the subpoena. He is going to testify next week."
Quinn will face no criminal charges unless he commits perjury, lying to grand jurors, Pascoe said. Pascoe also agreed to shield Quinn from reporters as he enters and exits the state grand jury's rooms in downtown Columbia.
Quinn's testimony in a secret state grand jury proceeding could take Pascoe's investigation, now in its fourth year, into new areas, where new targets await. Already, Pascoe has secured three guilty pleas from former state representatives, all Republicans. A state senator, John Courson, R-Richland, awaits trial, as do two other former lawmakers — Jim Harrison, R-Richland, and Tracy Edge, R-Horry — charged with misconduct in office.
For more than 30 years, Quinn has been a kingmaker in S.C. politics, influencing elections and laws. His political clients, nearly all Republican, have included Gov. Henry McMaster, Attorney General Alan Wilson, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson and numerous others. Quinn's corporate and institutional clients have included the University of South Carolina, SCANA, AT&T, Palmetto Health, the S.C. Trial Lawyers, BlueCross BlueShield of S.C., payday lenders, the gambling industry and others.
Quinn and his son, former state Rep. Rick Quinn Jr., R-Lexington, were indicted last year on felony charges, alleging they operated an illegal political influence machine, known informally as "The Quinndom." Pascoe alleged Richard Quinn Sr. secretly had paid various lawmakers more than $1.3 million to push legislation for his clients. Rick Quinn was alleged to have participated in that scheme and made millions.
But under a plea-bargain deal approved in December by Pascoe and the Quinns' lawyers, Pascoe agreed to drop all the charges against both men except for a misdemeanor charge of misconduct against Rick Quinn. In return, Rick Quinn pleaded guilty and resigned from office. As part of the deal, Richard Quinn agreed to testify before the state grand jury. Pascoe has said in court documents that more indictments are likely after Quinn's testimony.
But, almost immediately, the December plea bargain ran into difficulty. After Judge Mullen sentenced Rick Quinn to probation, Pascoe — who had wanted prison time — appealed the younger Quinn's sentence to the S.C. Court of Appeals.
During Tuesday's hearing, Richard Quinn's lawyer, Barbier, told Mullen that her client objected to testifying before the state grand jury while Pascoe was appealing, contending that move undercut the plea bargain, including Richard Quinn's agreement to testify.
Richard Quinn "is prepared to testify in the grand jury and to testify, truthfully," but only if it is part of "a package plea agreement," Barbier said.
Pascoe only dismissed the charges against Richard Quinn on Monday, after Barbier filed her objection to Richard Quinn testifying before the state grand jury, the attorney said. Barbier argued Mullen should dismiss Pascoe's appeal to the Court of Appeals, but the judge declined, indicating it was a separate issue from Richard Quinn's appearance before the state grand jury.
At times, Tuesday's hearing grew testy with Mullen lecturing Pascoe on "role reversal" when the special prosecutor asserted the judge had told him to "go light on the facts" concerning the Quinns in a December court hearing.
"That's your representation," Mullen said, denying the charge and speaking over Pascoe. "Where do you think, as a lawyer, you have any basis for asking me any questions? ... You are the prosecutor. Do your job. I'm going to do my job."