Attorneys for wealthy Savannah, Georgia convenience store magnate Greg Parker have filed multiple motions in South Carolina circuit court seeking to remove attorney Mark Tinsley and his co-counsel, Tabor Vaux, from representing the family of the late Mallory Beach. Tinsley and Vaux are representing the Beach family in a wrongful death case against multiple parties – including convicted killer Alex Murdaugh.
Also named in their lawsuit? Parker and his company, the Parker’s Kitchen chain of gas stations.
Last week, Parker’s quest to disqualify Tinsley and Vaux appears to have finally come to an end with a ruling from S.C. circuit court judge Daniel Hall denying the latest motions from his attorneys. With this matter now resolved, it would appear the stage is now set for the upcoming trial – which is scheduled to begin on August 14, 2023 in Hampton County.
The case seeks to assign blame in the fatal boat crash – and award damages to those ultimately deemed responsible.
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To recap: Beach – a 19-year-old from Hampton, S.C. – perished in the early morning hours of February 24, 2019. She died after a 17-foot, center console Sea Hunt fishing boat owned by Alex Murdaugh – and allegedly piloted by the late Paul Murdaugh – slammed into a piling near the Archer’s Creek bridge outside of Parris Island, S.C.
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).
Upon impact, Beach was flung into the cold, dark waters. Her body was discovered a week later by fishermen.
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Paul Murdaugh and others on the boat were in a “grossly intoxicated” state at the time of the crash, according to responding law enforcement officers. Despite alleged obstruction efforts by his father, Paul Murdaugh was eventually charged criminally in connection with the crash – and prosecutors made it clear they were seeking a lengthy prison sentence. Paul Murdaugh was murdered before he could stand trial, though. His father, Alex, was convicted of his murder – as well as the murder of his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh – on the family’s hunting property in Colleton County on the night of June 7, 2021.
Incidentally, these murders were committed just three days before Alex Murdaugh was scheduled to appear in court to provide Tinsley with financial records in connection with the boat crash case. That hearing – which could have exposed Alex Murdaugh’s many alleged financial crimes – was canceled due to the deaths of Maggie and Paul.
This is one of many reasons why Tinsley’s wrongful death lawsuit is viewed 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. Beach’s death was also the driving narrative in ‘Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal’ – a smash hit documentary that premiered on Netflix on February 22, 2023 and exposed the Murdaugh family and its dark secrets to an international audience.
Since the boat crash, Parker and his minions have engaged in a vicious war using questionable tactics in the hopes of absolving him and his company of any culpability for this tragedy. That jihad has spawned a second lawsuit tied to this case – filed in December 2021 – which focuses on the unauthorized disclosure of confidential mediation materials by those allegedly in Parker’s employ.
Those allegations have cut both ways, though …
Parker’s attorneys have repeatedly sought to have Tinsley and Vaux dismissed from these lawsuits – arguing they improperly received and reviewed privileged information and materials. Tinsley has also been accused of improperly disclosing privileged information – and engaging in improper communication with a party represented in one of the cases. The latest motion to disqualify him was filed on June 5, 2023 and arguments pursuant to it were heard on Wednesday, June 28, 2023.
Tinsley has pushed back hard against the allegations against him, arguing the materials he received were part of a “media campaign” – and that their release to a public relations firm waived any privilege that might have previously attached to them.
In Tinsley’s response to the motion to disqualify him — filed in advance of the hearing on June 27, 2023 — he noted any assertion that he and Vaux acted improperly in order to obtain Parker’s litigation strategy in the boat crash case was “simply untrue” and that claims made in support of such assertions were “demonstrably false.”
THE “DOCUMENTS IN QUESTION …”
The documents in question begin with an blog post entitled “Death and Justice: The Murdaugh Family Murders” published by Gregg Roman on July 27, 2021. Roman, a Middle East policy expert from Philadelphia, wrote his extensive one-off blog about the Murdaugh case two summers ago. He also appeared in – and helped produce – a documentary produced by journalist Vicky Ward and BlackFin Productions.
On November 24, 2021, a “trailer” was released for the documentary entitled “Murdaugh Murders: Deadly Dynasty.” The trailer depicted six (6) scenes from a confidential video produced for the mediation proceedings in the boat crash case. The video also depicted photographs of Mallory Beach’s body that have never been publicly released.
Five days later, attorneys for the Beach family notified judge Hall of the disclosure of the mediation materials in the trailer – and asked for the court to hold Parker and all the individuals involved in the release in contempt of court for violating the confidentiality of the mediation rules.
On December 3, 2021, a separate conspiracy/ outrage lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Beach family against Parker and his company. Also named as defendants in that lawsuit were Blake Greco, Jason D’Cruz, Max Fratoddi, Henry Rosado and Private Investigations Service Group, LLC. The lawsuit alleged a civil conspiracy – one part of which was the alleged release of the confidential mediation materials and the photographs of Mallory’s body. The central allegation in the lawsuit was Parker and those employed by him leaked the information in an attempt to weaken the resolve of the Beach family to pursue their wrongful death claim against him.
Thus began the battle for the “documents in question.”
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As we previously reported, these documents were compiled by a private investigator named Sara Capelli and two companies owned by veteran South Carolina political operative Wesley Donehue. Parker’s attorneys previously argued these documents should be protected under attorney-client privilege.
After months of wrangling over whether the documents contained confidential materials related to the litigation strategy of Parker’s legal team, in April of 2022 a law clerk for S.C. circuit court judge Bentley Price sent an email directing that they be turned over to Tinsley and Vaux within fifteen days.
The email instructed the materials to be provided without a privilege log – noting that any objections from Parker’s counsel would be taken up prior to trial. Tinsley emailed Sandy Senn – Donehue’s attorney – and subsequently obtained the documents.
Last October, the state supreme court ordered Price to review the subpoenaed documents – and Parker’s privilege log – and to make specific findings as to each document. Last month, Price belatedly identified more than 215 pages of privileged material – although he appears uncertain as to how to handle the matter moving forward.
“The cat’s out of the bag,” Price said. “I mean, I can’t stuff the mashed potato [back] into the bag.”
Mixed (mashed?) metaphors not withstanding, Tinsley and Vaux have argued the so-called “privileged” documents stemmed from a media campaign organized by Donehue – and should not be considered part of Parkers’ litigation strategy. According to their latest filing, “even a legitimate media campaign is not a valid litigation strategy worthy of being, or remaining, privileged.”
They further argue the provision of the material to Donehue’s firm “waived any privilege that could attach to the information.”
THE ALLEGATIONS AND THE RESPONSE …
According to Tinsley, the evidence is clear that Greg Parker himself actually hired Donehue and Capelli. The evidence? Greg Parker’s own public admissions on national television – and to reporter Valerie Bauerlein of The Wall Street Journal (who published this expansive treatment of the saga last August) Tinsley states “the documents were collected and compiled as a part of an ordinary public relations advice, were shared with Gregg Roman and published publicly waiving any possibility they were privileged.”
Parkers’ attorneys insisted Tinsley should be disqualified because he spoke with Capelli while she was represented in the conspiracy case. Tinsley claimed the only conversation he had with Capelli related with the production of her file — not about what she had or what she did. He also pointed out there was no evidence that the two discussed her representation. In fact, Capelli told Tinsley she was not represented by Parker’s lawyers – only once mentioning that she was planned to speak with attorney Brian Duffy.
After Capelli hired her current lawyer, he consented to her speaking to Tinsley – and indicated she would be calling him about the motion to compel. Moments later, Capelli called Tinsley’s cell phone. Tinsley stated “the conversation was limited to the fact that judge Price was issuing or would be issuing an order to protect her from the assertion that Capelli was breaching any contractual obligation of confidentiality.”
“Moreover, there is no evidence (I) gained any advantage or information from any discussion with Capelli,” he continued.
THE ORDER AND WHAT HAPPENS NEXT …
Last Friday – June 30, 2023 – judge Hall issued his final ruling denying the motion to disqualify Tinsley and Vaux. That means the boat crash case is scheduled to go to trial on August 14, 2023 in Hampton County, S.C.
At that point, we expect to see our first glimpse of the materials Greg Parker and his allies have fought so hard to keep hidden from public view.
Count on FITSNews to provide coverage of the boat crash trial from the moment the gavel drops …
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(Via: S.C. Judicial Branch)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
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 [email protected].
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