On Wednesday, September 10, 2014, a Richland County Grand Jury indicted South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell on nine charges. The indictments came after a legal saga that already landed in the state Supreme Court.
As both sides hunker down for what promises to be a hard-fought battle, the prosecutor reminded everyone what an indictment is: “At this point in the process, the indictments are mere accusations. Mr. Harrell is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
We should also remember before he can be convicted, 12 jurors must all agree the State proved him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Speaker Harrell was indicted for:
- Common Law Misconduct in Office. The State accuses him of using campaign funds for personal use from 2009 to 2013. Apparently, this charge carries up to 10 years in prison.
- Statutory Misconduct in Office. This is different from the common law charge, because it involves violation of a law passed by the legislature (called a statute, hence the term “statutory”). This accuses him of misrepresenting the purpose of various expenditures for personal benefit from 2009 to 2013. This charge carries up to a year in prison.
- Ethics Act Violation for False Reporting. This accuses the Speaker of paying himself just over $294,000 from campaign funds he falsely reported he used for official or campaign purposes. The charge spans the years 2009 to 2012. It also accuses him of concealing these payments by altering his airplane’s log book and falsely creating flight schedules, plus misinforming law enforcement and the House Ethics Committee related to these funds. This charge carries up to a year in prison.
- Ethics Act Violations for Using Campaign Funds for Personal Expenses. The Grand Jury made six separate indictments of this charge. Basically, they accuse Harrell of paying himself from his campaign account for expenses claimed as legislative that were actually personal. Four indictments claim he reimbursed himself for his private airplane expenses on flights he never took in 2009. A fifth indictment accuses him of claiming a personal flight as legislative travel, to pay himself just under $4,000 for using his private plane when he flew it to a high school baseball tournament. The final indictment accuses him of paying himself just over $70,000 from his campaign account for an administrative assistant when he used it for personal benefit.
The next step is a bail hearing, which has not yet been set.
Speaker Harrell’s Response
Speaker Harrell issued a statement soon after the indictments were issued, stating, "In no way have I ever benefited personally or financially from travel reimbursements from my campaign account. In fact, I have regularly used the privately raised funds from my campaign account to pay for official state travel instead of passing that cost along to taxpayers. Similarly, I have often used my own airplane, at no cost to the taxpayers, for official state travel when it would have been completely justifiable to have used the taxpayer-funded state plane instead. If over the course of four years, I mistakenly wrote down the wrong date on a handful of items, that is something that can easily be addressed."
Serious accusations must be taken seriously. But the defenses to them must be taken just as seriously. Speaker Harrell has everything to lose in these accusations, and we have nothing to gain by convicting him without knowing the whole story.
Speaker Harrell has experienced, highly skilled lawyers from Charleston. We can all be grateful he’ll have a thorough defense so we can be confident in the result, whatever that may be. At times like this, we are all better served to seek the best part of ourselves—silencing our shrill voices and restraining the urge to rush to judgment.
Related Links:The South Carolina General Sessions Criminal Case Process