Crime & Courts

‘Murdaughs’ Playground’: Trial Lawyer Leader Finally Calls Out Fallen Dynasty

Hilton Head Island retreat finally hears some truth …

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It took awhile, but the gathering once known across the state of South Carolina as the ‘Murdaughs’ Playground’ finally heard one of its attendees call out the infamous legal dynasty.

That’s quite a departure from last year‘s S.C. Trial Lawyers Association (a.k.a. S.C. Association of Justice) convention – when convicted killer Alex Murdaugh’s surviving son, Buster Murdaugh, was in the midst of a major charm offensive amongst attendees.

It’s an even bigger departure from 2021, when Murdaugh – a past president of this group – attended the event himself.

Things went south for Murdaugh very quickly thereafter, though. A month after the 2021 convention,  Murdaugh tried to stage his own murder on a Hampton County roadside with the assistance of his alleged drug dealer/ check casher, Curtis “Eddie” Smith. This roadside shooting – and the subsequent unraveling of Murdaugh’s narrative about what transpired on the side of the Old Salkehatchie Road on that fateful Labor Day weekend – was a pivotal moment in the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga.

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In October of 2021, Murdaugh was arrested on charges tied to the shooting. That December, he was charged in the alleged theft of millions of dollars from former clients, law partners and family members. Last July, Murdaugh was charged with murder. And on March 2 of this year, he was convicted of killing his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and younger son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh, on June 7, 2021 at Moselle – the family’s hunting property.

Judge Clifton Newman sentenced him to life in prison the following day.

As we noted in the latest edition of our Week In Review, the collapse of the ‘House of Murdaugh’ continues to this day – a murderous, made-for-Hollywood implosion set against the Spanish moss-draped woods and waters of the picturesque Palmetto Lowcountry.

A.k.a. ‘Murdaugh Country.’

As I noted last year, the trial lawyers’ conference – held annually on Hilton Head Island – has long been regarded as the epicenter of influence peddling within the Palmetto State’s notoriously corrupt system of “justice.”

On the first evening of this retreat each year, the former law firm of Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED) would host an exclusive, invitation-only “judge’s dinner” – spending thousands of dollars to wine and dine the very people they have historically relied upon for favorable rulings.

“Was always such a smelly tradition,” one source told me for a story I filed several years ago. “The judges loved it, though. The best wine and the best food. It was a big deal.”

Even after Alex Murdaugh’s collapse, his family and firm’s influence still lingered over the organization – which bills its members as “advocates for fairness under the law.”

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RELATED | JUSTICE ‘DEFERRED’

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Prior to this month, the trial lawyers were led by Bert “Skip” Utsey – a former PMPED attorney. Also, as of last year, a framed picture of Alex Murdaugh still hung on the “wall of presidents” in the conference room of SCAJ’s downtown Columbia, S.C. headquarters, commemorating his leadership of the group from 2015-2016.

While this legacy – and the accommodative systems which enabled it – have been roundly condemned by this news outlet and countless others, the silence emanating from inside the proverbial belly of the beast has been nothing short of deafening.

Until this past weekend …

On the morning of Saturday, August 5, 2023 – as the latest annual trial lawyers’ convention wound down – attorney O. Fayrell Furr Jr. of the Myrtle Beach, S.C.-based Furr & Hinshaw firm was honored by the organization with its so-called “Champion of Justice” award.

During his acceptance speech, Furr told attendees he was “embarrassed” Murdaugh was a past president of the association – adding that every trial lawyers in attendance should be “embarrassed, too.” He further exhorted his colleagues to work together to “overcome the shadow (Murdaugh) cast over our profession by stealing from his clients and partners” and violating the “trust of people who depended on him.”

Finally, somebody said something …

Following his speech, “lawyers lined up to thank him,” a source who attended the gathering recalled.

(Click to View)

Alex Murdaugh (S.C. Department of Corrections)

“Fayrell Furr said what needed to be said,” another told me. “He was the first person I’ve heard address it. And he just pulled the curtain straight back and confronted it.”

Good for Furr. Better later than never, I suppose. And while it seems to the rest of us that publicly rebuking a thief and murderer is hardly a profile in courage, context matters.

Unfortunately, much more work is necessary if this “justice” association hopes to come even remotely close to fulfilling its stated mission of advocating for “those who are harmed by the actions of others no matter how powerful, wealthy or well-connected” they are.

Failure to adhere to this maxim has sent faith in South Carolina’s “independent” judicial institutions plummeting to an all-time low. Rather than protecting the vulnerable, organizations like this one have enabled and empowered a corrupt system in which violent criminals are coddled via sweetheart plea dealsanemic sentencesridiculous bonds and not-so-mandatory minimums.

Victims? They are trampled over. While new victims are created …

This deadly, corrupt and inherently unfair system has been driven for decades by powerful lawyer-legislators – and by powerful institutions like the trial lawyers and their legislative allies. Certainly, there are exceptions – like state representative Justin Bamberg, a lawyer-legislator who has consistently stood up for victims (including Murdaugh victims).

But those exceptions are far too few … and way too far between.

A big part of the problem? A lot of these powerful attorneys live in a self-sustaining echo chamber – one in which they are constantly told how good they are, how smart they are, how important they are and how virtuous they are. But the real problem? A broken system that enables them to habitually violate the principles they purport to uphold.

Until that system is fixed, all the truth-telling in the world won’t outweigh naked self-interest …

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR ...

Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

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.

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9 comments

Michael Top fan August 7, 2023 at 8:04 am

Great article, Will. But you left out one of the journalistic Ws. Who is it that this year provided the Kobe beef, the Beluga caviar, the expensive rare wines for the judges?

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VERITAS Top fan August 7, 2023 at 10:28 am

I also am curious whether PiMPED put on this year’s bash; if not, then who did? The attorneys, judges and legislators (the current South Carolina INJUSTICE system) need to admit their addiction to affirmation within their tidy little system, power, prestige, greed, corruption and, in some cases, criminality. The “cozy” influence-peddling and self-congratulatory vomit needs to stop. Attorney-legislators use the legislature as a tool of self-promotion, grandstanding and influence. I also think court calendars ought not to be amended on behalf of attorney-legislators. Let’s not leave out some law enforcement who are in this mix of pathetic infectious ooze.

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Eddie Parnell August 7, 2023 at 10:41 am

What has ever happened to the Thornblade sex scandal in Greenville. It appears to have been “swept under the rug”.

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Marcy August 7, 2023 at 4:10 pm

The suit looks great Will!

Thanks for all you do.

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FranElle September 8, 2023 at 7:05 am

This article has inaccuracies. It states Buster and Alex artended last year (2022). Alex has been in jail sonce 2021 shortly after the roadside incident:

“That’s quite a departure from last year’s S.C. Trial Lawyers Association (a.k.a. S.C. Association of Justice) convention – when convicted killer Alex Murdaugh’s surviving son, Buster Murdaugh, was in the midst of a major charm offensive amongst attendees.

It’s an even bigger departure from 2021, when Murdaugh – a past president of this group – attended the event himself.”

But this is par for the course with Fits who often misstates facts

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Clemson McDaniel III August 8, 2023 at 12:44 pm

Yes, excellent article on the microcosm or should I say the festering petri dish that hath spawned Murdaugh and others. More power to you and your colleagues on the front line fighting injustice here.

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SubZeroIQ August 9, 2023 at 5:35 am

It is no courage at all, only cowardice, to beat on a man or a woman when (s)he is down or out of office as YOU, FITS, have been doing to the wonderful Judge Manning.
You want McMaster, and after him Alan Wilson, to appoint judges in South Carolina instead of the Legislature electing them?
You want Leon Lott to dictate sentences or even cause the presumed-innocent to be killed in pre-trial detention?
Let’s talk again about whom McMaster chose for Interim Solicitor and whom Alan Wilson is likely to choose for judge if he gets crowned (that is “elected” with contributions from lawyers) king (“governor” with power to give millions to private lawyers).
Yes, God willing and FITS permitting, I shall keep writing about Hatchet-for-Hire Heather, full name Sara Heather Savitz Weiss.
BTW, it was Judge Manning who swore Weiss in as Interim Solicitor and patiently stood for a photo with Mr. and Mrs. Savitz (Heather’s mom and pop) and Todd and Sara Weiss and their son (an aspiring actor) and daughter (an aspiring dancer and LAWYER-LEGISLATOR).
Stephen Savitz is now the lead-partner of Savitz-Bettis. That law firm has, at least since Charlie Condon was SC Attorney General (“SCAG”), collected hundreds of thousands, if not millions, DIRECTLY from SC’s Insurance Reserve Fund (“SCIRF”) for work defending state agencies and governors which SCAG’s office should have done itself but instead farms out to private lawyers and private law firms.
Those private lawyers and private law firms in turn make campaign contributions to SCAG and solicitor candidates.
Alan Wilson recieved such campaign-rescuing contributions from Stephen Savitz in March 2010; and as soon as Alan Wilson took office in January 2011, he hired Heather, who was being run off from her assistant-solicitor position by new Chief Deputy Solicitor Dan Goldberg.
There is reaon to SUSPECT Heather continued to collect the additional $70K/year from the City of Columbia to do hatchet jobs on (meaning bring false criminal charges against) the City of Columbia’s critics and opponents in civil litigation.
But that is only the tip of the iceberg.
Savitz-Bettis also employed Shahin Vafai, a former law clerk to Jean Toal (and co-author of one of her books) and later to federal Judge Joe Anderson.
Shahin Vafai has apparently now retired from law to write Bahai books.
Who replaced him at Savitz-Bettis? R. Hayne Hodges, III, son of Robert H. Hodges, Jr., now senior judge of the Court of Federal Claims and former aide to Strom Thurmond.
The THIRD is married to Shiva Vafai, Shahin’s sister and also a former law clerk to Jean Toal and Joe Anderson.
The Vafais apparently came to the U.S. as refugees from persecution of Bahais in Iran under the Shah, who had closed all Bahai temples to placate the Shi-a clerics after photos of Soraya Esphandiari Pahlavi (the Shah’s second wife) water-skiing in a bikini in Florida were published and caused a fire storm in Iran.
Shiva got appointed a federal magistrate, apparently as a diversity token, and is probably campaigning for the judgeship left open after J. Michelle Childs got elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.
How does Shiva campaign to be the first Iranian-American Bahai federal judge? Why, of course, by being extra tough on OTHER immigrants and refugees.
Nothing wrong with that if Shiva were following the law.
But instead Shiva writes things so false and stupid they indicate she has no respect for herself OR for the Constitution she swore to defend.
Shiva wrote that the Constitution does NOT guarantee a criminal defendant a jury of her peers. She really wrote that. The right to a jury of one’s peers is even much older than the U.S. Constitution and traces back to Magna Carta.
But Shiva was willing to ignore it.
What else does Shiva ignore in her “legal” writings? For one, the well-established rule that, in the initial testing of a complaint for legal sufficiency, the stated allegations are taken as true and all reasonable inferences from them are to be accepted.
Why does Shiva so shamelessly distort the law? To help her husband who, through the Savits-Bettis law firm, often represents Richland County and Leon Lott.
Ethically, Shiva should not sit on cases where her husband’s clients are parties. But Shiva does it anyway in cases involving OTHER immigrants.
Who is going to enforce the rights of immigrant litigants to a fair judge? No one. Certainly not SC’s supreme court, the candidates for which use xenophobia as resume enhancement.
So, Leon Lott, whom Shiva’s husband regularly defends on taxpayer’s money, bad-mouthes pre-trial detainees at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center (“ASGDC”), the presumed-innocent pre-trial detainees get stabbed (in one recent instance to death), Lott gets to do the investigation and plays dumb (at best) about his own incitement of violence at ASGDC.
If and when a surviving ASGDC detainee, or the family of a deceased one, sues ASGDC, Lott, and/or Richland County, Shiva gets herself assigned to the case and recommends that Richland County gets dismissed.
Again, who polices that unethical behavior by federal jurists? Certainly not SC’s Supreme Court who is deep in mutually-assured-extortion with some current and former federal judges and their law clerks AND the later employers of those law clerks and judges when they retire.
The Murdaughs are not the root of all evil, the love of money is. And many federal judges (the model of appointment FITS clamors for) love money as much as the next guy or gal or as much as FITS and the next blogger.
If this comment get through, stay tuned for the sequel, God willing and FITS permitting.

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SubZeroIQ August 9, 2023 at 10:12 pm

This is one more reason I KNOW Alex Murdaugh (“AM”) did NOT kill Paul or Maggie, nor does he know who killed him or had an opportunity to search for the real killers.
Remember what happened a couple of weeks ago with AM’s tablet-recognition photos which should not have been released in the first place because they are NOT subject to FOIA?
I am NOT saying AM is a saint. But I feel as if AM was dropped among cannibals, idiot cannibals ready to bite every bit of him off just because someone whipped up hysteria against him.
Immediately, people assumed he took the photos himself because he is a narcissit; and the charlatans and pop-psychologist filled the air with false diagnosis of what made him take supposedly naked selfies.
All it was are automatic face-identification photos he probably did not know about.
I was a prisoner and you did not visit me, said Jesus Christ.
If you don’t have the decency to comfort a prisoner, at least have the seemliness of not ganging up on a man when he is down.
Judgment shall be without mercy on him who showed no mercy, also says the Bible.

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SubZeroIQ August 14, 2023 at 8:10 pm

FITS, on your 12 August 2023 WIR video, when you said, “government run school,” I thought you said “Governor school,” and I assumed you meant the Governor School for Math and Science. So, I had thought you were a better a high school student than you really were.
OTHERWISE: Tomorrow, God willing, there are TWO Murdaugh-related hearings in Charleston federal court: the Fleming sentencing in the morning and the Nautilus v. Murdaugh civil suit in the afternoon (or flip that). Will you be there to COVER either or both?

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