Indicted South Carolina House speaker suspends himself from office

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 11, 2014 3:44 PM

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON S.C. (Reuters) - South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell suspended himself from the state legislature on Thursday, a day after he was indicted on nine criminal charges related to misuse of campaign money and misconduct in office.

Harrell, a Republican, said in a letter that he was taking the step proactively and, according to House rules, had asked the speaker pro tempore to take charge of the legislative body.

But state Attorney General Alan Wilson, also a Republican, said state law and legislative rules barred Harrell from suspending himself because the action implied he had the power to reinstate himself later.

Harrell, who has been speaker since 2005, was accused by a grand jury on Wednesday of using hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds for personal expenses and falsifying his private plane's logbook to seek payment for travel that did not occur.

After the indictment was announced, he said he never knowingly violated the law and that he had saved taxpayers' money by often using his private plane or paying for flights with private funds while traveling on official business.

Mark Powell, spokesman for the attorney general's office, said he was not aware of a sitting House speaker being criminally indicted before in South Carolina.

Ken Ard resigned as the state's Republican lieutenant governor in March 2012 just hours before a state attorney announced his indictment on seven counts of violating ethics laws by misusing campaign money.

In Harrell's case, two lawmakers had asked Wilson for his opinion about whether the speaker could suspend himself. Opinions by an attorney general are not legally binding but can be given weight by a court, Powell said.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Bill Trott)