Other views: Open hearing needed in Bobby Harrell case

  • Posted: Monday, March 24, 2014 12:01 a.m.

S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s lawyers want S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson to be dismissed from a grand jury probe of an ethics complaint against the speaker. The public should know why.

And that means the public should have access to the court hearing that will decide the matter.

Certainly the public doesn’t look charitably at being shut out of the process, particularly when it involves the powerful speaker of the House and the state’s No. 1 prosecutor.

And certainly not when it involves an ethics complaint charging that Harrell used his campaign account for personal use. Harrell, a Charleston Republican, has called the complaint “a baseless attack ... driven by personal and political vendetta.”

The state’s newspapers most definitely look askance at the Harrell team’s request to remove Wilson in a closed hearing.

That’s why 109 South Carolina newspapers back a legal motion calling for the hearing on the attorney general to be held in open court. Two television station have joined the challenge.

Wilson is the right person to serve as prosecutor before the statewide grand jury – barring some surprise development in the pending hearing on the request to dismiss him from the case.

The public ought to have the opportunity – indeed, it has the right - to know all about it.

As Jay Bender, attorney for the S.C. Press Association, said in his motion to the court filed Thursday: “Historically the secrecy attached to grand jury proceedings has application only to ‘those things which transpire in the Grand Jury room.’ “

He added, “Harrell’s prominence in the affairs of the State of South Carolina demands that any judicial proceeding concerning him be open for scrutiny by public and press so that the public may have confidence that ‘justice was done.’ “

Circuit Judge Robert E. Hood heard the motion at the Richland County Courthouse Friday morning – and in an open session. That’s a good omen.

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