A day after FITSNews raised questions about a U.S. District judge’s potential conflicts of interest in presiding over a federal lawsuit to stop the release of Alex Murdaugh’s jail house calls, the judge issued an order addressing the concerns and invited requests for her recusal.
In Tuesday’s order, Judge Michelle Childs wrote that “the court became aware of allegations of impropriety made by non-judicial, non-legal sources.”
The ”allegations” Childs is likely referring to are questions this news outlet raised about her connection to NPStrategy, a public relations firm that has been working with Murdaugh to manage his image in the aftermath of the murders of his wife and son this past summer.
NPStrategy is owned by Nexsen Pruet, a law firm that used to employ Childs.
NPStrategy was also purportedly hired by the South Carolina Association of Justice — an organization of trial lawyers of which Murdaugh was president in 2016 – to manage Childs’ recent bid for a Supreme Court nomination.
In her order, Childs’ acknowledged her connection to what was then named Nexsen Pruet Jacobs & Pollard LLP and said she worked there from 1991 to 2000.
She said she has ”never knowingly utilized services provided by NP Strategy LLC.”
Childs also introduced a new potential conflict, which is a credit to her transparency.
”Moreover,” she notes, ”a current law clerk was employed in the office of Plaintiff’s counsel, Richard A. Harpootlian P.A., before starting her judicial clerkship.”
The lawsuit, filed by Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin on Feb. 28, seeks to stop the director of Richland County Detention Center from releasing recordings of Murdaugh’s calls.
FITNews and Murdaugh Murders Podcast obtained the recordings through a Freedom of Information Act request and published transcripts and audio from the calls the week prior to the lawsuit being filed.
The calls gave the public a closer look at Murdaugh’s machinations from behind bars and, as it turns out, directly contradicted many of the claims that have been made by his attorneys in an effort to gain his release from jail.
In the seven days after the lawsuit was filed, four judges were assigned to the case, according to a report from print paper reporter John Monk at The State.
Before Childs’ appointment, according to Monk, there was judge David Norton of Charleston (he was also assigned to the case Monday, but before Childs). Norton replaced judge Mary Geiger Lewis (who was assigned the case last Wednesday). Lewis replaced judge Bruce Howe Hendricks of Greenville.
No explanation was apparently given for these reassignments.
One possible reason for the shuffling, though, might be that judges must remain impartial — and any appearance to the contrary (such as previous relationships and other connections to the parties in the case … which there are, according to Monk) is a problem.
In her order Tuesday, Childs cited Canon 2 from the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, which states that judges must ”act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”
She ended her order by saying the court would consider motions filed on or before March 11.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Liz Farrell is the new executive editor at FITSNews. She was named 2018’s top columnist in the state by South Carolina Press Association and is back after taking a nearly two-year break from corporate journalism to reclaim her soul. Email her at email@example.com or tweet her @ElizFarrell.
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