Buried within yesterday’s brazen court pleading from the attorneys representing disgraced South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh is a potential game-changing appeal that could fundamentally redefine the scope of the criminal proceedings against the man at the epicenter of the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ true crime saga.
Assuming his ethically challenged attorneys get their way, that is …
Defense lawyers Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin – who are representing Murdaugh in connection with no fewer than seven criminal inquiries at the state level (and now multiple civil lawsuits as well) – filed a motion this week in the S.C. fourteenth judicial circuit seeking to have one of the civil cases against their client dismissed.
The filing involved the case of Gloria Satterfield, who served as housekeeper and nanny to the Murdaugh family for more than two decades. Satterfield died in a suspicious “trip and fall” incident in 2018, and Murdaugh is facing criminal property theft charges after allegedly participating in a settlement scam related to a subsequent wrongful death action filed on behalf of her family.
Murdaugh and others are accused of making off with millions of dollars from this settlement, which is the focus of an ongoing criminal investigation led by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) – as well as the high-profile civil suit, which was filed by attorneys Eric Bland and Ronald Richter.
(Click to view)
(Via: Will Folks/ FITSNews)
These cases have often co-mingled, with Bland (above) and Richter speaking on behalf of their clients last month at a bond hearing for Murdaugh on the criminal charges. Murdaugh’s bond has been denied (twice) – a ruling Harpootlian and Griffin have appealed to the S.C. supreme court.
In their latest civil court filing, though, the two “bulldog” defense attorneys argued that because Satterfield’s family has been “fully compensated for their alleged losses” in connection with the settlement scam – the suit against Alex Murdaugh should be dropped.
Is that really what the pleading is about, though?
“Look past what they want you to see,” a researcher following the case told me late Wednesday. “Their actual move is buried within the motion.”
According to the researcher, the sheer egregiousness of the filing – which was roundly condemned for its brazenness and mocked for its weak arguments (including references to several dubious precedents) – is proof it is a Trojan horse rather than a legitimate attempt to have the case dropped.
“The optics are so horrible that it has to be a diversion,” the researched said.
So … what is the actual motive?
Take a look …
(Click to view)
(Via: S.C. Courts)
That’s the proposed “remedy” Murdaugh’s attorneys are seeking in the event the judge in this case declines to throw it out entirely.
Which they know isn’t going to happen …
“There isn’t any legal basis for (tossing the case),” one attorney following the case told me. “Both their arguments are worthless. The criminal action is brought by the state, so it’s not the same action pending between the parties. Second, there’s no right to a dismissal because a plaintiff has settled with a co-defendant. The jury decides the plaintiffs’ damages, and in this case the jury could decide the actual damages sustained are (much higher) when you consider the mental anguish, etc. caused. The court cannot say as a matter of law that the plaintiffs’ case is worth a certain amount.”
After expending significant ink in defense of tossing the case, Harpootlian and Griffin return to what is clearly their primary argument.
“A stay of this civil lawsuit is in the best interests of judicial economy,” they wrote. “The public interests will best be served by staying this civil lawsuit, and allowing the criminal prosecution to proceed without interference.”
Wait … “interference?”
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The last time I checked, attorneys in the various civil cases targeting Murdaugh – including Bland and Mark Tinsley, the lead attorney on another wrongful death case tied to the family – have been uncovering all manner of malfeasance by Murdaugh and others in his orbit.
These discoveries have, in fact, helped drive the criminal cases against Murdaugh and his alleged co-conspirators.
Given that ongoing civil discovery could continue to help inform the criminal investigation, it is easy to see why Harpootlian and Griffin want to grind that process to a halt.
“My guess is they don’t want anything that comes up in the civil case to be used in the criminal case,” the researcher said. “But notice how everyone is focused on him not wanting to pay the Satterfield family. That is deliberate.”
Stalling the civil case could also result in Murdaugh not having to testify in a deposition, one lawyer tracking the case told me.
“Normally when you see criminal charges pending against someone who’s also being sued in a civil action, the defendant will plead the Fifth Amendment if he is deposed in the civil suit,” the attorney said. “Because of course anything said in that deposition could be used in the criminal action.”
“But the negative to that is the Fifth Amendment protection doesn’t work the same way in civil actions,” the attorney continued. “In those (cases), the court can instruct the jury that they can take a negative inference from the fact the defendant pled the Fifth — in other words, that if he had testified, his testimony would have been harmful to his case.”
Regular readers will recall this is exactly what happened in the ongoing NukeGate investigation – which seeks to impose accountability (well, to some extent) for those whose bad decisions wound up blowing $10 billion on a pair of abandoned nuclear reactors.
According to the attorney, though, “there is zero reason both cases cannot proceed simultaneously.”
“It’s not going to take any more judicial resources than it would otherwise, because the criminal and civil cases can’t be tried together,” the attorney said. “Plus, the outcome of one case doesn’t determine the outcome of the other. Even if found not guilty of criminal charges he could be found liable in civil court, and even if he was found not liable in civil he could be convicted of the criminal offenses. They have different elements and different burdens of proof.”
Indeed. Another possible motivation for the filing? Creating possible grounds for appeal in the (likely) event Harpootlian and Griffin’s motion is denied.
If we have learned one thing from the defense attorneys in this case it is this: They are always up to something. And that something is invariably “no good.”
THE FILING …Motion-to-dismiss-satterfield-civil
(Via: S.C. Courts)
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 New York Mets’ lid pictured above).
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