In another dramatic turn of events related to Charleston prosecutor Scarlett Wilson, an attorney has accused the public defender in Wilson’s circuit, Ashley Pennington, of warning people in his office not to criticize Wilson for ethical improprieties.
The complaint, made by Columbia attorney Desa Ballard last week, is available on The Post and Courier website here.
Glenn Smith writes for The Post and Courier:
Ballard described Pennington as a vocal supporter of Wilson who reportedly muzzled his staff’s criticism of the solicitor and required them to consult with him before alerting state court officials to any alleged misconduct by her office.
…Ballard said she was approached by an attorney in his office who complained that the public defender had directly ordered him not to file misconduct complaints against Wilson in 2007 and 2009.
The attorney, who she would not identify, said Pennington also made clear that his performance evaluation would hinge on him ceasing his public criticism of Wilson and her office.
“You are not to speak or convey in any manner to others comments that are critical of (Scarlett Wilson) or her office, especially regarding their ethics or honesty without gaining my permission first,” Pennington stated in a December email to the attorney.
Pennington, however, goes on to say in the email that his directive should not be construed as limiting the attorney’s ability to file ethics grievances against prosecutors with state court officials if there is a need.
Ballard included the email in some 70 pages of trial transcripts, articles and other documents she attached to her complaint in support of her position.
Pennington said Friday that filing grievances becomes necessary when the offending lawyer shows an indifference to the ethics rules, but that has not been the case when he has voiced concerns over evidence-sharing and other issues with Wilson and her staff.
“I have not encountered that indifference in the Solicitor’s Office,” he said in an email. “Over the last seven years, each of the issues or objections I have personally raised with the Solicitor and her staff have been heard and been responded to.”
The controversy stems from a 2013 incident in which a South Carolina supreme court justice warned prosecutors at a conference that the Court was going to come down hard on prosecutorial misconduct, saying, “You’ve been getting away with too much for too long.” The justice singled out Wilson’s office as one of the worst offenders. Wilson and other circuit solicitors responded by trying to have the justice recused from all their criminal cases.