A state judge has given an early Christmas present to former state Rep. Jim Harrison, ruling the Columbia Republican can stay out of prison until his appeals of his conviction last month are exhausted.
Thursday’s decision by Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen means the 67-year-old Harrison, who was convicted of misconduct and perjury in a Richland County jury trial, conceivably could avoid prison for months, if not years.
“In considering the granting of bond, I take into account the nature of the offenses, the possibility of flight by the defendant, the defendant’s ties to the community and his documented health issues,” Mullen wrote.
Harrison suffered a mini-stroke during his five-day trial and was hospitalized.
Ethics expert John Crangle, a lawyer who has written a book on white-collar crime and the S.C. General Assembly, said he was shocked Harrison was granted an appeal bond.
“Harrison doesn’t deserve any appeal bond. He needs to go to jail,” said Crangle, who watched much of Harrison’s October trial.
Judge Mullen’s ruling is an extraordinary gift to a defendant who had so much evidence piled up against him, Crangle said.
That evidence showed Harrison secretly was paid about $900,000 from 1999 to 2012 by the Richard Quinn & Associates political and corporate consulting firm, which illegally was lobbying the Legislature on behalf of its business clients. During that period, Harrison was chairman of the S.C. House’s powerful Judiciary Committee, controlling the fate of roughly 40 percent of the most important legislation to go through the House — much of it of interest to businesses.
“Mullen didn’t even require him to forfeit any of that money,” Crangle said, adding criminal appeals can take up to three years. “He’s getting a free pass. Just because he has a suit and tie, it doesn’t mean Harrison is above the law.”
On Nov. 20, Mullen denied several defense motions to overturn Harrison’s convictions, saying there was ample evidence to support the verdicts against him.
Harrison would be the first current or former member of the S.C. General Assembly sent to prison in connection with a state grand jury investigation into State House corruption.
That investigation, led by special prosecutor David Pascoe and SLED, has resulted in four other legislators pleading guilty to misconduct and resigning, rather than standing trial. Another legislator — former state Rep. Tracy Edge, R-Horry — is awaiting trial on misconduct and perjury charges.
Pascoe declined comment Thursday.
Harrison’s attorneys, Reggie Lloyd and Hunter Limbaugh, had requested the bond while Harrison appeals to the S.C. Court of Appeals and, potentially, the state Supreme Court.
“We appreciate the order. We think there are significant issues to be addressed on appeal,” Lloyd said. “Appeal bonds are kind of rare, but we think it was warranted in this instance.”