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Will Folks: Should Rick Quinn Go To Prison?

What will happen to the crown prince of the Palmetto State’s most powerful political empire?

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by WILL FOLKS ||  A little over five months ago – on a bright and beautiful early summer morning in central South Carolina – I said goodbye to my five kids and hopped into the car with my pregnant wife.

We traveled from our home outside of Irmo, S.C. across the Lake Murray dam to Lexington, S.C. – where I was scheduled to appear in court in connection with this news site’s ongoing source protection case.

At the time, I didn’t know whether I would leave the courtroom as a free man.  In light of my ongoing refusal to comply with a court order demanding that I reveal my sources – there was a very real chance I could wind up in jail indefinitely.

I stuck by my guns and didn’t rat out my sources … but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid.

I was … very much so.

I recalled this situation – the palpable fear and hopelessness I felt – as I watched former state representative Rick Quinn sitting in court last week awaiting his fate.  On Wednesday, Quinn pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor misconduct in office charge in connection with #ProbeGate – an ongoing, multi-jurisdictional investigation into corruption in state government.

Quinn is accused of helping to orchestrate an elaborate illegal lobbying scheme – one that profited his family to the tune of more than $4 million over the past six years.

“There is not a legislator who could consciously duplicate this corruption,” S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe told the court, describing Quinn as the “most corrupt lawmaker” in Columbia.

Pascoe asked S.C. circuit court judge Carmen Mullen to lock up the 52-year-old politico for “every single day” of a one year jail term.  According to the solicitor, Mullen needed to impose such a sentence in order to “send a message” to other corrupt lawmakers.

Mullen accepted Quinn’s guilty plea but deferred sentencing.

Quinn is likely to learn his fate some time next week …

What do you think should happen to him?

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Should Rick Quinn go to jail?

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Honestly?  I voted “unsure.”

On the one hand, elected officials who abuse the public trust absolutely should be sent a message.  That’s why this news site has endorsed mandatory prison time for such offenses as one of the key planks of its ethics reform agenda.

South Carolina state government is literally teeming with corruption, and allowing those who profit from it to evade accountability is unacceptable.  And will only encourage more corruption.

As recently as October, my news site reiterated its call for jail time for elected officials who are found to be guilty of breaking state ethics laws (which are in dire need of a major upgrade and expansion).

“A minimum sentence of one year behind bars for violators,” this editorial noted.  “No early release.  No probation.  No exceptions.”

On the other hand, Quinn is finished in Palmetto politics whether he goes to jail or not.  He has lost his office, his clients and (according to his attorneys) many of his friends.  His kids are even being bullied at school, one of his lawyers told Mullen.

Isn’t that punishment enough?

Again, I don’t know.  All I know is I’d hate to be in Mullen’s shoes right now.  She’s got a positively gut-wrenching decision to make – and she’s got to make it soon.

I will say this for Quinn: It seems abundantly clear at this point that his guilty plea was offered as part of an effort to protect his father, Richard Quinn.  It’s also clear his plea was entered with the full knowledge that prosecutors would recommend prison time for him (a recommendation I believe is likely to be accepted).

That’s worth considering.

Whatever I think of the unethical conduct the younger Quinn has admitted to (and the conduct he has been accused of committing), let’s give him his due on one count.  There’s something ironically respectable, oddly admirable about his willingness to face jail time in an effort to protect someone else.

I know exactly what that feels like because I’ve been there …

I don’t know what’s going to happen to Rick Quinn.  I suspect he will receive some prison time, and I suspect that his sentence will wind up sending a message to other South Carolina politicians – a message that desperately needs to be sent.

But no one should rejoice in another’s downfall, or wish such harsh consequences upon them.  Justice is a necessity, not a cause for petty derision or misappropriated glee.  And while all of us should roundly condemn the legacy of political self-service for which Quinn and his family will forever be remembered in Palmetto politics – we should also take a moment to acknowledge the measure of sacrifice the younger Quinn is demonstrating as he faces the music for his own sins and the sins of his father.

That self-sacrifice certainly doesn’t excuse his prior conduct, but it is worthy of some measure respect.

Will Folks is the founding editor of the website you are currently reading.

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