Yesterday, our executive editor Liz Farrell penned a story on efforts by Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin – attorneys for disgraced ex-lawyer Alex Murdaugh – to block the release of any new jail house phone calls placed by their client.
Murdaugh – the man at the epicenter of the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ true crime saga – has been an inmate at the Alvin S. Glenn detention center in Columbia, South Carolina since October 16, 2021. He is currently being held on $7 million bond in connection with dozens of criminal charges tied to various financial scams.
Murdaugh is also a “person of interest” in connection with a gruesome double homicide that took place last June at “Moselle” – his family’s hunting property located just five miles northeast of Hampton, S.C. That shooting claimed the lives of his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and their son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh.
In fact, recent reports indicate physical evidence exists which links Murdaugh directly to these shootings.
An initial round of Murdaugh’s jail house recordings were obtained exclusively under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by FITSNews and the Murdaugh Murders Podcast, which was founded by our news director Mandy Matney.
Harpootlian and Griffin filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in South Carolina trying to block the release of any future calls. On Tuesday, the “bulldog” duo stepped up these efforts – filing a motion (.pdf) seeking a “preliminary injunction” which would forbid the detention center from “disclosing to anyone the intercepted telephone communications between (Murdaugh) and others in response to a records request.”
A preliminary injunction would prohibit the detention center from releasing the contents of future calls while a federal judge considers the merits of Harpootlian and Griffin’s request.
The latest motion specifically references “media requests,” and includes coverage from Matney’s podcast as well as FITSNews’ latest “Week in Review” segment as exhibits.
Take a look …
(Click to view)
(Via: U.S. District Court)
As Farrell noted in her piece, Harpootlian and Griffin have argued Title III of the federal wiretapping statute “prohibits the disclosure of recorded telephone communications of inmates to the public in response to a records request.”
However, Farrell noted the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in a 2003 case (Smith v. U.S. Department of Justice) that Title III does NOT prohibit the disclosure of such calls – and therefore the calls are not exempt from FOIA.
“Smith correctly identifies the fundamental defect in the Government’s argument: the recordings he seeks were not the product of an ‘interception,’ consensual or otherwise, governed by Title III; therefore, they are not subject to whatever limitations Title III places upon the disclosure of information that does result from a covered interception.”
Farrell also spoke with First Amendment expert Jay Bender, who told her the Murdaugh calls were public records the detention center was obligated to release under FOIA.
”If you know your calls are being recorded, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy,” Bender said. “So … as long as the recordings are being made, and you make a request for access to them, the jail will be required to give you access to those recordings, because those are public records under the law.”
Notwithstanding the legal debate over the recordings, one thing seems clear … Alex Murdaugh (or one of the people he spoke with on these calls) must have said something incredibly incriminating in one of these recorded conversations.
Something his attorneys desperately want to keep the public from hearing …
Seriously … why else would they engage in such a full-court press?
The effort is doubly bizarre considering Harpootlian has already gone on national television and admitted his client is a drug addict who stole millions of dollars from his former law partners (ahem).
Sources close to the ongoing investigations into Murdaugh, his influential family and the powerful law firm it founded over a century ago did not state any preference as to whether the jail should release any additional phone calls. I am reliably informed the calls have been screened to ensure no information is released which could compromise the ongoing investigations, however.
Stay tuned … as noted yesterday, this news outlet will continue to push for the release of all calls which are not directly tied to an ongoing investigation or protected by attorney-client privilege.
THE FILING …
(Via: U.S. District Court)
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 “Battleship Chains” Norfolk Tides’ lid pictured above).
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