BEAUFORT, SC (WIS) - There were allegations secret meetings, calls for a judge to step down, and a war of words that almost seemed personal – all of that and more in a heated hearing at the Beaufort County Courthouse Wednesday morning.
It was a hearing to discuss a "motion to reconsider" the sentence given to former Representative Rick Quinn, Jr. (R-Lexington) on a misconduct in office charge he pleaded guilty to on Dec. 13.
On Wednesday, Quinn and his father were both in the courtroom, but both played minor roles. It was Pascoe and the judge, Carmen Mullen, who stole to show when they quickly became ensnarled in a legal spar.
Weeks ago, Judge Mullen gave Quinn, Jr. a sentence of two years of probation, 500 hours of community service, and a fine on the one misconduct in office charge. To Pascoe, it was a letdown, and it was a decision he almost immediately challenged. During that hearing, Mullen didn't give him an opportunity to address the court, so he filed his 'motion to reconsider' days later.
"The [judge's] conduct throughout the guilty plea and sentencing of Defendant Richard M. Quinn, Jr. flies in the face on constitutional law and South Carolina law," Pascoe wrote in the motion.
On Wednesday, Pascoe was given a chance to speak.
He argued the judge didn't consider all of the information he presented in giving Quinn a sentence. In the December plea, Pascoe gave a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation that painted Quinn as one of the worst of the worst and most corrupt politicians at the State House. It included a number of allegations that the defense denied.
He's said Judge Mullen, by law, should have considered his presentation in her sentencing decision. Once you plead guilty, you lose your presumption of innocence, Pascoe argued.
"What you gave to me was a PowerPoint presentation," Mullen said sternly to Pascoe in the Wednesday morning hearing. "Those are a lawyer's allegations. You should have just tried the case."
"We don't have to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt once he pleads guilty," Pascoe rebutted. "In every plea that has taken place since – the thousands of pleas – since December the 13th, no defendant was given the presumption of innocence to the indictment he's pled guilty to except Rick Quinn, Jr. ...This was going to be a golden opportunity for the State of South Carolina – this public corruption case – to send the most corrupt legislator up there to prison for up to a year and have another person go before the grand jury and start telling us where the bones are buried, but now, he was given a presumption of innocence that does not exist and a burden of proof that doesn't exist for a guilty plea."
Mullen returned fire and asked Pascoe why she should believe everything he says is factual. As the prosecutor and the judge sparred, Quinn, Jr. and his attorney sat quietly.
"I went through and read my guilty plea, I asked him no less than six times if he was guilty of statutory misconduct in office," Mullen said and added that she was satisfied with Quinn, Jr.'s answers in the affirmative.
As the sparring continued, Pascoe then asked Mullen to recuse herself from the case and claimed she has not been "fair and impartial." Mullen refused and denied Pascoe's claim.
"Mr. Pascoe, if I have made an error of law, a higher court can take it up. You can file any motion you want. I am not going to recuse myself, because I know I am fair and impartial," Judge Mullen told him.
"You are now a witness in this case – not a fair and impartial judge," Pascoe said to Mullen.
"So are you, Mr. Pascoe," Mullen shot back instantaneously.
Finally, Quinn touched on what seemed to be the most sensitive subject. He alleged that the judge and the defense held meetings without his knowledge.
At that point, tempers flared. Matthew Richardson – one of Quinn's attorneys – sprang from his seat in a fury to address the judge. Another of Quinn's attorneys, John Gasser, also stood up to rebut Pascoe's claim. Finally, Quinn's third attorney, Greg Harris stood to ask for a ten-minute break.
When the judge returned, Pascoe officially asked her to vacate, or void, Quinn's sentence. She hasn't released a decision yet.
Quinn, meanwhile, briefly addressed media members when he exited the courthouse with his father and legal team in tow. He was quick to target the Democrat who indicted him, Pascoe.
"What happens is – justice really doesn't become the issue – what's the truth is not the issue – it's getting your man and getting the results you want. I think Mr. Pascoe showed today by his actions that's what his motivation is, and I think it's a sad state of affairs," he said.