The private detective who allegedly bought alcohol for underaged friends of Paul Murdaugh and a social “knife fighter” who allegedly was hired to affect proceedings in the Mallory Beach boat crash case have been ordered to hand over the work they did on behalf of Greg Parker, the CEO of Parker’s Kitchen gas stations.
On Monday, a ruling from Judge Bentley Price was filed at Hampton County Courthouse ordering Sara Capelli of Inquiry Agency and Wesley Donehue of The Laurens Group and Push Digital to produce their client files to Allendale attorney Mark Tinsley, who represents the Beach family in a civil conspiracy lawsuit against Parker and others.
Sources have told FITSNews that both Capelli and Donehue were willing to comply with the subpoenas sent to them by Tinsley in February but were soon stopped by Parker’s attorneys.
Parker’s attorneys — Deborah Barbier of Columbia, Mark Moore and Susan McWilliams of Nexsen Pruet, and Ned Tupper of Beaufort — argued that the work produced by Capelli and Donehue is subject to attorney-client privilege and therefore not subject to Tinsley’s subpoenas.
In Monday’s order, Price gives Capelli and Donehue 30 days to produce their work to Tinsley.
“Further, in the event the Parker Defendants or their counsel sent any information to these third parties that the Parker Defendants or their counsel deem attorney-client privileged or work product, defense counsel shall immediately send any such information to the Court for its review.”
In what FITSNews was told was an explosive hearing March 16, Tinsley accused Parker of hiring Capelli to follow Paul and Buster Murdaugh to collect information that could lessen his business’ potential liability in the boat crash case.
Capelli was allegedly tasked with gathering details of Buster’s sex life and Paul’s underage drinking escapades, according to sources with knowledge of what transpired that day at Hampton County Courthouse.
A document filed March 17 by Tinsley referred to photographs that were apparently presented in court showing Capelli who allegedly bought alcohol for minors during her investigation of Paul Murdaugh.
The March 16 hearing pertained to the civil conspiracy case filed this past December by the Beach family, who allege that Parker and his attorneys leaked photos of Mallory’s body, as well as other confidential court materials, to reporter Vicky Ward.
Parker and Ward vehemently deny this, but Tinsley and his co-counsel both say Ward admitted the arrangement to them last year.
The photos and materials were used in a video trailer that was posted publicly to promote Ward’s documentary “The Murdaugh Mysteries.” Ward says the video was posted online by mistake and was only meant to be shown to a handful of people connected to the project.
The Beach family contends that Parker and his attorneys hired various agents to act on his behalf in an online campaign meant to weaken the family’s resolve in the lawsuit they filed against him and Alex and Buster Murdaugh in 2019 after Mallory Beach was killed in a boat crash.
Paul Murdaugh was charged with three felony counts of boating under the influence after the crash. Parker is a party to the case because Paul purchased alcohol using his brother’s driver’s license from a Parker’s Kitchen prior to the crash.
Tinsley subpoenaed a number of private investigators and two crisis PR agencies he says were hired by Parker and his attorneys in the aftermath of the boat crash.
Parker’s attorneys attempted to quash those subpoenas as well as have Parker and two members of his legal team dismissed from the case altogether, saying that the information Tinsley seeks is protected by attorney-client privilege.
They have accused Tinsley of using the civil conspiracy case as a way to gain information that might help him in the wrongful death case.
“It is clear that Plaintiffs’ counsel is on a fishing expedition.”
They also argued that Blake Greco and Jason D’Cruz, the two attorney co-defendants in the conspiracy case who participated in the mediation process, did not owe a duty to the Beach family in keeping materials shared with them private. Greco and D’Cruz are accused of releasing those confidential materials to a third party.
In an affidavit filed March 15, former assistant Disciplinary Counsel to the South Carolina Supreme Court Michael Virzi, disputed the Parker team’s argument, saying, “It is my professional opinion that Defendants Greco and D’Cruz owed duties to Plaintiffs and that the Complaint in this case alleges facts that, if true, amount to breaches of those duties.”
According to a supplemental brief filed by Parker’s attorneys March 17, Tinsley also argued that the attorney-client privilege and work-product privileges do not apply in cases in which crime or fraud have occurred.
In the brief, Parker’s attorneys argue that “the intentional infliction of emotional distress and conspiracy claims alleged in the Complaint” would not be considered crimes or fraud, and that Tinsley has “completely failed” in presenting any facts pointing to crime or fraud.
They had asked the Court to order the recipients of Tinsley’s subpoenas to return the information they had gathered and give the information to “their rightful owner, Gregory M. Parker and his counsel.”
Further, they argued, the work produced for Parker by the private investigator and PR companies were merely part and parcel of the “adversary system.”
“That the Parker Defendants’ counsel actually printed those words on paper as an argument for this Court to accept is mind-boggling and offensive to all notions of judicial integrity,” Tinsley wrote in his reply to the brief.
“Allegations of civil conspiracy between lawyers and their clients are exactly the type of conduct that gives rise to the crime-fraud exception,” he wrote. “… It is quite telling that the Parker Defendants are so anxious to have all the information returned directly to them without any involvement of the Court. It makes one wonder what might be in those documents.”
Tinsley then referred to photographs presented during the hearing of Capelli who, he says, purchased alcohol for minors during her investigation of Paul Murdaugh.
“Plaintiffs’ counsel raised the issue of whether the subpoenaed documents might include receipts showing reimbursement to Ms. Capelli by the Parker Defendants for the alcohol she purchased. This is just one example of why the Parker Defendants might be anxious to have the documents returned to them for ‘safekeeping.’”
Donehue, founder and CEO of The Laurens Group and founding partner and CEO of Push Digital who describes himself online as a “knife fighter,” said Parker hired his agencies to help Parker’s Kitchen manage their reputation in the aftermath of the boat crash and to pitch stories to media on tort reform.
In an interview with FITSNews on Feb. 28, 2022, Donehue unequivocally denied any notion that he would engage in any takedown of Mallory Beach or her family.
“I can damn well tell you it wasn’t us,” he said. “That is so beneath anything I’d feel comfortable with I don’t even know how to describe it in words. It would damn my soul to hell forever.”
Donehue said his group worked with Parker from January through April 2021 and parted ways because “we had differences in strategic direction.”
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 protected] or tweet her @ElizFarrell.
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