A heated verbal duel between ex-S.C. Rep. Jim Harrison and special prosecutor David Pascoe — about honor, lies and money — marked the last day of testimony Friday in the Columbia Republican’s public corruption trial.
“You got paid (illegally) to be a legislator!” Pascoe accused Harrison, as a Richland County jury of seven women and five men looked on.
“Absolutely not!” Harrison almost shouted back.
Pascoe — a graduate of The Citadel, the Charleston military college where cadets promise not to lie, cheat or steal — told his fellow Citadel grad Harrison, “It’s a shame they didn’t teach you the ‘Honor Code!’ ”
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“I was a member of the Honor Court,” Harrison responded. “I’m not sure you were!”
“Yes, I was,” shot back Pascoe. ”So why don’t you tell this jury what’s the first thing you are taught at my school?”
“How to stand up straight,” replied Harrison.
“Did they teach you that cadets never lie?” Pascoe shot back, questioning whether Harrison had lied in 2006, when asked by a journalist if he worked for the Quinn firm.
Harrison told Pascoe he didn’t know why Brad Warthen, then-editorial page editor of The State, had quoted the legislator as saying he was not being paid by Quinn.
“Mr. Warthen is a very honorable journalist, and I respect him,” Harrison testified. “But I’m not acknowledging that I lied to a reporter.”
The sparring went on for nearly an hour, as Pascoe depicted Harrison as a lawmaker on the take, paid by Richard Quinn & Associates, and Harrison insisted that was not the case.
From 1999 to 2012, Harrison was chairman of the S.C. House’s powerful Judiciary Committee, which vets almost half of the bills proposed in the House, clearing some for possible passage and dooming others to failure. He also was on Quinn’s payroll.
The key issues in Harrison’ public corruption trial — on charges of misconduct, perjury and conspiracy — are whether he covertly helped Quinn’s corporate and institutional clients pass or kill bills in the S.C. General Assembly, and whether the then-legislator broke the law by failing to disclose his income from the Quinn firm.
While Harrrison was employed by the Quinn firm, its clients included AT&T, BellSouth, BlueCross BlueShield, Unisys, Palmetto Health hospital system, SCANA and the S.C. Alliance for Justice, a trial lawyers association.
In his last comments from the witness stand, Harrison delivered a rousing defense of his actions in the Legislature.
“I am an honest, honorable man,” Harrison told the jury. “There is no way that I would do anything like that to risk the reputation I have built over 40 years to get a paycheck from Richard Quinn. I built a law practice. ... I didn’t need Richard Quinn’s money. ... Richard Quinn never asked me to take a position on a bill. ... Never, ever. Period!”
Jumping up, Pascoe fired his last question. “Aren’t there 900,000 reasons why you did that?” the prosecutor asked, referring to the $900,000 that Quinn paid Harrison from 1999 through 2012, when Harrison retired from the Legislature.
“No, absolutely not!” Harrison almost shouted.
A minute later, when Harrison stepped down from the witness stand, he glared at Pascoe as he passed the prosecution table.
Harrison could be sentenced to up to 26 years in prison if convicted on all counts. However, as a first-time offender, he likely would not face so severe a sentence.
Questioned by one of his defense attorneys, Reggie Lloyd, Harrison said his work for the Quinn firm was innocent and legal, involving only giving firm chief executive Richard Quinn advice on political campaigns.
“I was a sounding board for him, about different things,” Harrison told the jury.
In his questioning by Lloyd, Harrison came across as a sympathetic figure — folksy, likeable and patriotic, having served abroad with the U.S. Army in Bosnia, Haiti and Saudi Arabia.
Harrison, 67, also told the jury that he was absent from the court Thursday because he was in the hospital after suffering a mini-stroke — his fifth in the last two years.
Harrison, who testified on the fifth day of his trial, was the only defense witness. The case is expected to go to the jury late Friday afternoon.
Harrison’s case is the first to go to trial in the four-year investigation into State House corruption led by Pascoe, assisted by the Law Enforcement Division. The other lawmakers, who were charged, resigned from office and entered guilty pleas.