A South Carolina circuit court judge has been accused of improperly inserting himself into the ongoing drama surrounding disgraced attorney Alex Murdaugh – the man at the center of the still-unspooling ‘Murdaugh Murders’ true crime saga.
According to multiple sources familiar with the situation, S.C. circuit court judge Casey Manning – who has served as a judge on the Palmetto State’s fifth circuit since 1994 – contacted plaintiff’s attorney Eric Bland and encouraged him to back down from attempting to depose fellow S.C. circuit court judge Carmen Mullen.
Bland is the lead attorney representing the family of Gloria Satterfield, whose members appear to have been defrauded as part of an elaborate conspiracy involving Murdaugh and others to make off with millions of dollars from Satterfield’s wrongful death settlement. Bland originally sought to depose Mullen in connection with that case – one of several controversial rulings the judge is likely going to have to answer for as this saga continues to unfold.
Murdaugh was arrested last week and charged with two felony counts of obtaining property by false pretenses in connection with “misappropriated settlement funds in the death of Gloria Satterfield,” according to a statement issued by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
Bland challenged SLED on those arrests, accusing the agency of factual inaccuracies in the arrest warrants issued for Murdaugh – and of failing to sufficiently charge the disgraced lawyer in connection with the Satterfield case.
SLED is currently heading up six active criminal investigations involving Alex Murdaugh, his influential family or the powerful local law firm it founded, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED). However, Murdaugh’s defense attorneys are pushing hard to get federal law enforcement agencies (and prosectors) to jump in on this case in the hopes of striking a better deal for their client – who is clearly mixed up in some serious scheisse.
The collapse of the Murdaugh empire – including numerous judges who coddled the family and its influential law firm – has sent shock waves through the Palmetto State’s legal community. It also has placed many of the state’s judges – who are currently vetted and screened by state lawmakers as part of a notoriously corrupt judicial selection process – on high alert. Furthermore, it has emboldened calls for reform of the current system of choosing judges.
Manning is a mentor to Mullen, his former law clerk. In fact, sources familiar with their relationship say he has often referred to the scandal-scarred judge as his “daughter.” Beyond this, though, Manning is a member of the S.C. Commission on Judicial Conduct (SCCJC), a panel which hears complaints filed against South Carolina judges.
In fact, sources familiar with the workings of this panel claim Manning has shielded Mullen from complaints filed against her in the past – although they declined to offer specifics.
Mullen has served on the S.C. fourteenth circuit since 2006. Three years ago, she was one of the judges who heard cases tied to the ProbeGate investigation into public corruption in the S.C. General Assembly. That inquiry led to the resignations of four ranking “Republican” leaders – and the conviction of another.
How did Mullen acquit herself during that process? Not well …
In fact, the galling lack of accountability in that investigation continues to grate reformers like me – who believe powerful elected officials should be held responsible when they abuse their office.
More recently, Mullen recused herself from any role in a criminal case involving Paul Murdaugh owing to her longstanding relationship with the Murdaugh family.
Bland declined to comment on the allegation that Manning pressured him, however he referred to the judge as “a great judge and a very close friend of mine.”
“He would never do anything inappropriate towards me or to my knowledge anyone else,” Bland said.
Still, Bland stopped short of denying the allegation …
Manning is stepping down from his seat next year. Mullen – who has served on the S.C. fourteenth circuit since 2006 – was reelected in 2020. Of interest? Mullen’s husband – Hilton Head, S.C. attorney George E. Mullen – has contributed thousands of dollars to the campaigns of ethically challenged S.C. lawyer-legislator Luke Rankin, who currently serves as vice-chairman of the powerful S.C. Judicial Merit Selection Commission (SCJMSC).
George Mullen’s law firm has also contributed thousands of dollars to Rankin’s campaigns.
The cost of doing business right?
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Bland ultimately abandoned his bid to depose Mullen, who likely would have been shielded from being deposed given her status as a sitting judge. According to the attorney, he “got all the answers” he needed from a separate subpoena.
Still, Bland acknowledged he heard from many of his colleagues in the aftermath of his motion to depose Mullen.
“I was told by several lawyer friends of mine that it probably was not a good idea to seek to depose her because I was going to have to ultimately make that request to the supreme court when she declined … and that the court most likely would not grant the request,” Bland said.
Manning has been accused of injecting himself into this case in other respects, too. Specifically, several media sources have accused him of steering one of Alex Murdaugh’s defense attorneys – Jim Griffin – toward an exclusive interview with Cody Alcorn of WHNS TV 21 (Fox Carolina) last week. Alcorn’s boss – Marybeth Jacoby – is Manning’s fiancé. She took the job as news director at Fox Carolina on September 8, 2021.
As this case moves forward, count on this news outlet to continue digging into the conduct of all the judges implicated in various Murdaugh-related shenanigans … as well as holding the judges accountable who have been tasked with hearing the charges against what is shaping up to be a lengthy list of Murdaugh-related defendants.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that University of South Carolina Gamecocks’ lid pictured above).
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