Crime & Courts

Former Columbia state representative to go on trial in State House corruption probe

Jim Harrison
Jim Harrison

A trial set to start Monday at the Richland County Courthouse could lift the veil on how insiders use power and money secretly to get laws get passed at the S.C. State House.

Former state Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Richland, is scheduled to go on trial Monday on charges of misconduct and perjury.

If the case against Harrison makes it to trial — four others against lawmakers ended in guilty pleas, sometimes announced as their trials opened — it would be the first public airing of a corruption case against a state legislator indicted by the state grand jury led by special prosecutor David Pascoe. The other lawmakers resigned and entered guilty pleas to misconduct charges rather than go to trial.

From 1999-2012, when he left the Legislature, Harrison was paid more than $80,000 a year, which he did not report on state ethics filings, by the then-influential Richard Quinn & Associates political consulting and strategy firm, according to indictments in the case and pretrial court statements by special prosecutor Pascoe.

During that time, Harrison was chairman of the S.C. House’s powerful Judiciary Committee and helped steer legislation involving Quinn’s business clients through the House. Pascoe contends Harrison had an obligation to disclose he was working for Quinn’s firm and should have abstained from doing any legislative work for Quinn’s business clients.

“I can’t wait to try this case!” Pascoe told a judge at a pretrial hearing in August.

Harrison and his lawyers, former State Law Enforcement Division chief Reggie Lloyd and Hunter Limbaugh, say the Columbia Republican is innocent and complied with all relevant laws governing legislators’ conduct.

Harrison was under no obligation to disclose either his work for Richard Quinn & Associates or the money the Quinn firm paid him, Lloyd said in a pretrial hearing.

On Friday, state Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen heard motions by Lloyd and Limbaugh, who argued Pascoe does not have the legal authority to prosecute Harrison.

Special prosecutor Pascoe only had authority to investigate two lawmakers named in a confidential State Law Enforcement Division report — Reps. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, and Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, Lloyd and Limbaugh argued Friday.

Quinn and Merrill also were investigated by Pascoe and indicted by the state grand jury. Subsequently, they resigned from the House and entered guilty pleas to misconduct charges.

Pascoe told Mullen he had broad authority to follow investigative leads, adding the S.C. Supreme Court gave him that authority. Courts already have ruled in his favor on the authority-to-prosecute issue, Pascoe said.

Jury selection in Harrison’s case is expected to begin Monday morning. The trial could last a week.