By Robert Kittle
Suspended former Speaker of the South Carolina House Bobby Harrell was released on bond Monday after appearing before a judge in Richland County. A Richland County grand jury indicted Harrell earlier this month on nine charges of misconduct in office, using campaign money for personal expenses, and improper reporting.
Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes, III released Harrell on an $18,000 personal recognizance bond, which means he doesn’t have to pay anything unless he fails to appear in court. “The defendant has no prior record. There’s no evidence that I could present that would show that he’s really a flight risk, particularly with his contacts in the community. Therefore, the state would have no objection to a PR bond,” First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe told the judge.
Pascoe was asked to prosecute the case after state attorney general Alan Wilson recused himself from the case.
Pascoe asked that Harrell not be allowed to leave the state without getting permission from his office or a judge. Harrell defense attorney Bart Daniel told the judge, “Your honor, this Thursday he had planned, and we’ve already run by Solicitor Pascoe, to travel with his daughter Charlotte to Lexington, Kentucky to see the Gamecocks play the Kentucky Wildcats.” The judge approved the trip.
Harrell didn’t comment to reporters after the hearing, but said in a written statement earlier this month after he was indicted, “I have said all along that I have never intentionally violated any law, and I still strongly believe that statement to be accurate.
“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.”
Government watchdog group Common Cause SC director John Crangle thinks this case will get ethics reform pushed through the Statehouse after years of it failing. “You need a scandal in order to drive reform. You never get serious ethics reform unless you have a scandal,” he says, pointing to the last time lawmakers passed ethics reform, which was after the 1990 Operation Lost Trust FBI sting that led to 17 lawmakers pleading guilty or being convicted of bribery or conspiracy.