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Crime & Courts

South Carolina’s Probate Court System Back Under The Microscope

Judge’s order responding to allegations of corruption raises eyebrows …

On May 24, 2023, Columbia, South Carolina-based attorney Tucker Player woke up planning to walk into the S.C. supreme court and file an emergency petition for a writ of prohibition on behalf of his client, Craig Hanna, alleging “a blatant attempt to circumvent the fundamental rights of due process.”

Hanna and his family, readers will recall, is at the center of a contentious probate court battle in the Pee Dee region of the Palmetto State that is threatening to blow the lid off of a much larger statewide scandal.

Probate courts oversee the estates of people who have passed away. They are charged with ensuring that any creditors get paid and that assets of the estates are divvied up properly among the appropriate beneficiaries.

How do they operate within South Carolina’s infamous “injustice” system?

Hanna believes the Palmetto State court system has cheated him and his mother, Jo Hanna, out of their rightful share of the $20 million estate of his father, Carlos M. Hanna – who founded Coastal Sanitary Supply in Florence in 1969. Specifically, he believes there has been a conspiracy to perpetrate this fraud involving judges, attorneys and his own brother, Brad Hanna.

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As he was readying to file his proposed writ, Player received word that Darlington County probate judge Marvin I. Lawson – who is presiding over this case – had submitted a response to his bombshell motion filed last week. Player’s motion (.pdf) accused the judge of issuing “an unconstitutional and illegal order” on April 18, 2023 related to the sale of some of Jo Hanna’s property –  a stately brick home in Florence on a beautiful tree-lined street in a prestigious neighborhood.

According to Player, the sale of this home was effectuated “without providing any notice or opportunity to be heard” to the parties in this action. In fact, attached to Player’s motion to vacate the sale was a letter (.jpg) from Charles Ipock – an attorney with the Haynesworth Sinkler Boyd law firm – requesting Lawson’s order be issued “without notice, as allowed under the South Carolina Probate Court.”

In his response order (.pdf), Lawson wrote that Player was “attempt(ing) to raise potential ethical allegations regarding prior actions of this court” – allegations which he “vehemently” denied. Nonetheless, Lawson acknowledged “the mere allegations themselves counsel that this court should vacate its prior order and recuse itself from further involvement.”

Which Lawson did …

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THE ORDER …

(Via: S.C. Fourth Judicial Circuit)

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Lawson’s new order also accepted the resignation of Darlington County treasurer Jeffrey Robinson, who was serving as the court-appointed conservator in this case. He further sought to clarify the role of state representative Cody Mitchell – whom he previously appointed to serve as Jo Hanna’s guardian.

According to Lawson, his January 18, 2023 order made it “abundantly clear” Mitchell was only designed as Jo Hanna’s guardian “in the event that one is needed in the future.”

Wait, though … wouldn’t the sale of Jo Hanna’s home have necessitated the presence of her guardian to protect her interests?

Lawson claimed that since Hanna is living at a facility which cares for patients with Alzheimer’s Disease, “all her needs are being taken care of,” and a guardian “has yet to be needed or appointed, and therefore Mr. Mitchell has not even been appointed or notified of any ‘appointment as Guardian, much less serve in any capacity for this Ward at any time.'”

Hold up … “Mitchell has not even been appointed?”

(Click to View)

Screenshot from December 14, 2022 order (S.C. Fourth Judicial Circuit)

All evidence to the contrary, Mitchell insisted the same thing. In a letter (.jpg) to Player dated May 24, 2023, he claimed to have “never been appointed to serve in this case in any capacity.”

Not only that, in a nod to his apparently over-inflated sense of self, Mitchell accused Player of linking him to the case for publicity purposes.

“I understand the effect that a matter involving two elected public servants may have on the media, and there is nothing wrong with harnessing that effect in the interest of your client, provided that fact is true,” Mitchell wrote. “However, in cases in which I am not involved, associating me with the case for the purpose of raising the public profile of the case (especially when impropriety is alleged) is improper,” Mitchell wrote.

His self-aggrandizing letter further instructed Player to “cease and desist from associating me with the case or suggesting that I am involved with it” and noted he was looking forward to “seeing retractions/ corrections from media outlets.”

Player said the pushback was designed to keep him from filing his proposed writ before the supreme court.

“Obviously it got back to judge Lawson and he filed this to keep me from filing my motion before the supreme court,” Player said.

Player’s proposed writ of prohibition against Darlington County listed several of the “troubling aspects” of the state’s probate court system. Among them:

  • A disregard for open and obvious conflicts of interest created when judges that formerly presided over cases are of counsel for law firms associated with those cases.
  • Open and obvious ex parte communications between the court and counsel.
  • Records revealing judges are regularly awarded power of attorney over their constituents.

Player’s motion included examples of other alleged violations involving Lawson – including property transfers he considers questionable. For example, an exhibit to Player’s motion contained a deed of distribution in which Lawson ordered the deed to be issued – to himself. He further noted the witnesses to this deed of distribution were Lawson’s secretary and treasurer Robinson.

Robinson, incidentally, has been appointed as a personal representative, a conservator, a trustee or a special administrator over numerous estates estate in Darlington County no less than nine times in the last three years. According to Player, though, the county treasurer “has not filed any fiduciary letters of conservatorship” with the Darlington register of deeds office.

“Either both Lawson and his preferred referral for conservatorships are completely ignorant of the law and requirements or they are trying to hide something,” Player said.

(Click to View)

Tucker Player (Facebook)

Speaking of lax reporting, Player noted it did not appear as though “Lawson ever reported any of these transactions” on his statement of economic interests – which are required to be disclosed every year to the S.C. State Ethics Commission (SCSEC).

Another interesting reference contained in Player’s motion: According to the pleading, Marvin Lawson “operates under a contract that makes him the only judge who makes competency determinations for twenty counties in South Carolina.” In this capacity, Lawson is responsible for deciding if an individual is incapacitated allowing for a protective proceeding, appointment of a guardian, appointment of a conservator, or the appointment of both a guardian and a conservator.

“A non-lawyer, elected politician who doesn’t know that he cannot sell property without notice to the owners is the only person allowed to make legal competency determinations in twenty counties in South Carolina,” Player wrote. “Considering this is the third emergency motion filed in a week over what appears to be widespread fraud in South Carolina probate court, this fact alone should terrify every member of the South Carolina Bar and infuriate every member of this court.”

“Forget Denmark, there is something rotten in the (county) of Darlington,” Player added.

“There is no fucking way this happened in as blatant a manner as it did for as long as it did without the complicity of lawyers,” Player said.

One final note: As we referenced in our original report on this unspooling probate mess, Gary Crawford – the Florence-based estate planning attorney who originally handled the Hanna case – died by suicide on March 19, 2023. After Player’s attempt to subpoena files on behalf of his clients was declined by Crawford’s wife and former office manager, Becky Crawford – Player petitioned the supreme court to appoint a receiver in those cases. He is also seeking an injunction which would block any non-lawyer from accessing any files currently in the possession of Crawford’s former law office. Specifically, he is seeking to enjoin Becky Crawford from controlling, modifying, or otherwise possessing the files of any client of Crawford or his firm.

According to Player, Becky Crawford is ostensibly operating a law firm without the presence or control of any licensed attorney – creating “a broken system that has prevented clients from gaining access to their files.”

As you can see from the filings contained in this story, Player has leveled some serious allegations – several of which are reportedly being investigated by the supreme court’s office of disciplinary counsel (ODC). As we continue digging into those allegations – and other issues we are finding within the South Carolina probate court system – I would remind everyone reading this article that FITSNews has an open microphone policy which encourages any individuals named in our reports to address our audience directly.

Stay tuned for much, much more on this saga …

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THE PETITION …

(Via: S.C. Fourth Judicial Circuit)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Jenn Wood (Provided)

Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at jenn@fitsnews.com.

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2 comments

Flossip Top fan May 26, 2023 at 8:15 am

Keep on unraveling the threads here–I have a feeling that this is far more widespread and common than just this one case and Florence-Darlington Counties.

Reply
Columbo June 1, 2023 at 3:07 pm

Rumor has it that something could be brewing that could easily blow even the lid off of the 9th Judicial Circuit.

What say the internet operatives for SC law enforcement offices who spy, spy, spy?

Reply

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