Efforts to schedule a trial date in the most prominent civil action tied to the ‘Murdaugh Murders‘ crime and corruption saga hit a snag last month when a powerful South Carolina lawmaker invoked his “immunity” from having to appear in court.
For those of you unfamiliar with this controversial component of the Palmetto State’s “justice” system – a state lawmaker cannot be compelled to appear in a South Carolina courtroom anytime between January and July. That’s seven months of “legislative protection” afforded to these attorneys each and every year – during which cases involving their clients cannot be heard unless they say so.
The theory is these lawyer-legislators are too busy “serving the people” in their capacities as elected representatives to be called into court.
The reality? Legislative “immunity” is just another blatant example of the unfair favoritism and special treatment extended by the state’s judicial branch to its legislative overlords.
Needless to say, this “immunity” is regularly abused by lawyer-legislators to delay, defer or subvert justice – while subjecting victims to unnecessary pain and suffering.
We are now seeing this favoritism rear its ugly, corrupt head in connection with the “boat crash case” – a civil action viewed by many as the impetus for the collapse of the once-powerful “House of Murdaugh,” a family which ran the Palmetto Lowcounty like a fiefdom for nearly a century.
According to multiple sources familiar with the status of this Hampton County case, powerful S.C. House of Representatives leader Murrell Smith – who represents one of the corporate defendants in this action – has told S.C. circuit court judge Daniel Hall he is unavailable to participate in a trial this spring.
Hall originally scheduled the boat crash case to be heard next week – January 9, 2023 – but agreed to delay it due to co-defendant Alex Murdaugh‘s pending trial on double homicide charges in neighboring Colleton County on January 23, 2023.
Hall had hoped to reschedule the trial for the week of April 10, 2023, but Smith’s objection has now made that impossible.
While I am told Smith is working with the judge in good faith to try and get the trial scheduled for late June of this year – voluntarily giving up part of his window of “protection” – the optics remain atrocious. As with everything in South Carolina, the legislature is calling the shots – telling the ostensibly independent judiciary what it can and cannot do. In fact, this is exactly the sort of chicanery I warned our audience about back in September 2021 when Smith was first hired by Savannah, Georgia convenience store czar Greg Parker.
“Smith should have never come within a country mile of this case,” I noted at the time. “He should have left well enough alone … and the fact he didn’t perfectly encapsulates the argument I (have repeatedly) made about the notoriously unethical process Smith and his colleagues in the S.C. General Assembly use to select and elect judges.”
Originally filed in March of 2019, the “boat crash case” involves multiple prominent defendants – including one (Parker) who has engaged in an outright jihad in the hopes of absolving himself and his company of any blame for this tragedy.
That jihad has actually spawned a second lawsuit tied to this case – one filed last December which focuses on the unauthorized disclosure of confidential mediation materials by those allegedly in the employ of Parker and his Parker’s Kitchen chain of gas stations.
The other defendants in the boat crash case? Multiple members of the Murdaugh family – which has achieved international notoriety due to the maze of alleged criminality revolving around Alex Murdaugh.
Both cases stem from a fatal 2019 boat crash which took Mallory Beach, a 19-year-old from Hampton, S.C., from family and friends in the prime of her life.
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To recap: In the early morning hours of February 24, 2019, Beach was flung from a 17-foot, center console Sea Hunt fishing boat allegedly piloted by the late Paul Murdaugh. The boat slammed into a piling near the Archer’s Creek Bridge outside of Parris Island, S.C. on that fateful early winter morning – with Murdaugh and others on the boat in a “grossly intoxicated” state.
Some of the alcohol which allegedly contributed to Murdaugh’s severe intoxication was purchased at a Parker’s Kitchen convenience store in Ridgeland, S.C. Paul Murdaugh used a South Carolina driver’s license belonging to his older brother, Buster Murdaugh, to buy the booze from this location.
Seconds before the boat crashed, GPS data obtained by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) indicated the vessel was traveling at a speed of approximately 29 miles per hour (or approximately 25 knots) at the time of impact.
Beach was flung into the cold, dark waters when the boat struck the piling – her body discovered a week later by fishermen.
The boat allegedly driven by Paul at the time of the crash belonged to his father Alex Murdaugh, the disbarred 54-year-old attorney who now stands accused of killing both his sion, Paul, and his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, on June 7, 2021. These murders were committed just three days before Alex Murdaugh was scheduled to appear in court to answer for his failure to turn over financial records to the Beach family attorneys in connection with the wrongful death case.
To quote the late Randolph Murdaugh III – one of three Murdaughs to hold the post of S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor between 1920-2006 – Paul Murdaugh was “drunker than Cooter Brown” at the time of the crash. State prosecutors agreed with that assessment, and Paul Murdaugh was charged with three counts of boating under the influence by the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson.
He was murdered before he could stand trial, however.
Alex Murdaugh is also the focus of an ongoing obstruction of justice investigation for his alleged actions in the aftermath of the boat crash.
Will members of the Beach family ever get their day in court?
Count on this news outlet to keep our readers in the loop in the event Hall is ever able to schedule a date for this trial. In the meantime, I would humbly submit that the revocation of legislative “immunity” must be a key component of any judicial reform advanced this session in the S.C. General Assembly.
Otherwise, we will continue to see South Carolina courtrooms run by powerful politicians – not impartial judges.
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 an incredible hat collection including that Tampa Bay Rays sunburst batting practice lid.
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