Crime & Courts

South Carolina Judicial Corruption: Family Court System Often Overlooked

Injustice in the Palmetto State is much bigger than the Murdaughs …

The ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga has brought unprecedented scrutiny on how lawyers conduct themselves in South Carolina – with the integrity of the Palmetto State’s judicial system rightfully coming under fire. During the trial, international audiences gained insight into how the corrupt good ol’ boy system enabled institutional malfeasance – with convicted killer Alex Murdaugh’s murders of 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh and 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh ostensibly intended to cover decades of illegal activity that suddenly rose to the surface. 

But broader questions remain: Do those upholding South Carolina’s judicial system really want to change it for the better? Are they genuinely committed to building a system founded on integrity? Are they truly willing to do what is necessary to restore confidence in the impartial administration of justice?

Or … are we in yet another situation in which those possessing the power, privilege and wealth decide to sit back and do nothing? Hoping the storm passes them by? While the rest of us sit around waiting for another Murdaugh situation to erupt?

In assessing corruption within the South Carolina court system, one huge component is often overlooked in the media – family court.

Honestly, unless you get mixed up with a congressman it’s hard to get anyone to pay attention to family court scandals. But if we ignore this critical component of our judicial system, we fail to keep tabs on an area that has the potential to impact the most vulnerable people among us … our children.

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Over the years, this news outlet has received numerous reports of potential corruption in family court – but one case recently came to our attention involving child custody litigation. A case in which one of the parties brought receipts to the table. This case has the potential to finally put the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) in position to take action against attorneys who are abusing the system.

A local mother who (for now) must remain anonymous recently shared private recordings of her interactions with three out of four attorneys (and a parental evaluator) who have been intimately involved in her child custody case for over a year.

The woman recently filed a 35-page complaint filed with ODC – one which was provided to this news outlet for review with redactions of sensitive medical information. The complaint contained roughly four hundred pages of supporting documents and nearly three dozen recordings of the attorneys involved – and a forensic psychologist.

In reviewing this complaint – and its multitude of attachments – it appears as though this local mother may have put ODC in position to finally take action.

In an effort to protect herself and her children, she carefully and meticulously documented this case from the very beginning. She painstakingly preserved documents and recordings because she knew in her heart things were not right. This resulting record? One of collusion, corruption, gaslighting, lies and deceit – an apparent coordinated effort to remove custody of the children from the mother. 

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Reviewing the evidence in this case was eye-opening and frightening, as it gave the distinct impression every move made by those involved – including the attorneys – was pre-arranged. But according to this mother, the alleged misconduct has become even more obvious as the case has made its way through the system at a snail’s pace.

In assessing allegations of potential legal misconduct, it’s easy to assume questionable actions are indicative of a single “bad apple” – or that the actions of larger groups of bad actors are being exaggerated or misinterpreted. But this is the kind of case that shows these misdeeds to be far more widespread. And assuming it is taken seriously by those in charge of protecting the citizens of South Carolina, it could wind up being something that spurs a movement.

The mother involved is reaching out to legislators, solicitors – in short, anyone and everyone claiming to support judicial reform. She is begging them to attend her final trial – where she hopes to put these recordings on display and show what has happened to her and her children. She wants status quo loyalists and would-be reformers alike to see for themselves what finally pushed her to a point she felt she had to fight back.

As with anyone who is trying to fight a powerful injustice, she is afraid. She is especially concerned the attorneys involved will do something to block her receiving a final hearing once they learn she has been recording them for an entire year.  So for now, she must remain Mother Doe.

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THE ALLEGED MISCONDUCT …

Once the hundreds of pages of documents and dozens of recordings were recorded, printed, saved and organized, the mother submitted a question to S.C. fifteenth circuit solicitor Jimmy Richardson. She asked him what a person should do when they had evidence of apparent misconduct involving attorneys in the family courts. Richardson advised her to report the misconduct to ODC.  Once she submitted the question, she was told (threatened?) a judge would take custody of her children based on Richardson’s recommendation because one of the attorneys involved is a powerful lawyer-legislator.

Why does this matter? Because South Carolina is one of only two states in America in which lawyer-legislators choose judges – a system which has promoted sweetheart plea dealsanemic sentencesridiculous bonds, the perpetual abuse of victims and “mandatory minimum” sentences that wound up being not-so-mandatory.

The result of all this? Widespread institutional corruption, material erosions of public safety and the transformation of an ostensibly independent judiciary into a political annex of the legislature.

The recordings we reviewed included one featuring her (previous) attorney explaining to her how no judge was ever going to do anything against a lawyer-legislator.

“And you know why … THOSE guys put them in their seats,” the attorney said.

The attorney said any report made to the ODC will eventually make its way back to a judge – which would result in the judge holding it against the mother. While she didn’t explain what she meant by “holding it against (the mother),” reading between the lines is fairly easy – taking custody of the children away from her. Not because of what’s in the children’s best interest, but because she spoke up against attorneys in this situation and reported alleged misconduct.

All of this came shortly after an attempt to take her children from her in a temporary custody hearing based on apparent hearsay affidavits and a parental fitness evaluator who accused her of being an unstable mother with severe alcohol problems.  That forensic psychologist’s attempt was wholly unsuccessful due to the mothers quick thinking – and everything she learned throughout the first year of this litigation.

(Click to view)

(Via Getty Images)

“I had to try and stay ahead of them,” she said. “It is an awful way to have to live, but my kids’ lives depend on it. I was being gaslit by my own attorney in telling me I have an alcohol problem.  I knew something was wrong.  I felt like something was about to happen and I needed to be ready.  So I went and had an alcohol ETG (Ethyl Glucuronide) hair follicle test done.  On top of that, the children’s father slipped in a message that alluded to him knowing that he was about to get full custody of our children even though we had NO trial date set or anything of that nature.”

That following week – at the end of her second appointment with the parental evaluator – the children’s father explained he had immediate safety concerns for the children if she was allowed to pick them up for her week of custody. The basis of this “immediate safety concern? Her alleged alcohol problem. 

“I was shaking,” she said. “I was so scared and I had no idea what was happening. I went to my car and realized the lab had emailed me my results that morning. Literally, that was my saving grace. That hair follicle test saved my kids from these animals.”

“The next day after the failed attempt by the parental evaluators to take our children from me, I was sent an email requiring that both of us submit to alcohol CDT blood test within 24 hours,” she continued. “Even with being on vacation, my blood CDT test was negative.  The children’s father took the CDT test and while I can’t say the results, I can say one thing was apparent – during this process, two kids have been left, repeatedly, in harms way.” 

An alcohol CDT – or Carbohydrate Deficient Transferrin – test measures two week of alcohol consumption. In order to receive a positive test, one must chronically binge drink. According to the mother, her husband took it on his sixth day with the children.  When the results were returned, she pleaded with her attorney for an emergency hearing and inquired if the guardian ad litem in the case could do anything to help – even temporarily.

The response? The mother was told she was “overreacting.” And when she spoke with the guardian ad litem, she said the woman merely smirked at her and explained, “I couldn’t prove he was drunk WITH the kids.” 

She was told in order for the guardian ad litem to do anything, one of her children had to die first.

That’s right … had to die.

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WHAT’S NEXT?

The mother who filed this complaint is still awaiting a response from ODC regarding her filing. She’s also waiting for her day in court after more than two years of contentious litigation. While afraid, she is determined to make a change.

“The threats, intimidation and retaliation of the attorneys involved leave me in fear,” she said. “In the last two years, if I spoke up, they made things worse on me and created bigger stories to paint the picture of me they needed to paint to take our kids from me.”

“They want me to be submissive and they reinforce the consequences if I dare speak up,” she continued. “I had no choice but to record them. If the ODC does nothing with this case and all attorneys involved; I will publicly disclose every recording I have. It will rightfully instill fear of our family court system because of the unregulated attorneys collusion and corruption.  Your kids have a price tag and they are going to the highest bidder. You will pay the price tag to have your kids taken from you.”

After everything she has gone through, the mother said she understands why so many women remain in abusive relationships. It’s often safer than facing the abuser in family court – and cheaper. She told me she researched the statistics and found in nearly thirty years, South Carolina has only seen one year in which it was not among the top ten states in the nation for intimate-partner deaths explaining.

“I’d still argue people are more safe in abusive relationship than they are in the South Carolina family court system,” she said.

The costs associated with defending herself have also been staggering – soon to eclipse $150,000.

“I spent $20,000 on my first attorney, plus around $10,000 in other legal fees including this evaluation after the first sixteen months,” she said. “We are now at twenty-five months in this child custody litigation and the actions of that attorney have now landed me in the ballpark of $100,000 in legal fees associated to this litigation and if they ever let us make it to trial – I will likely have spent $150,000 to have my children taken from me after a two-and-a-half year battle from hell. All because these attorneys are operating however they want to get the outcome that someone paid for.  They are painting the client of the attorney-legislator as the victim in this – and are requesting I pay all of his fees. I’m essentially paying for the abuse of myself and my children – and then paying for their price tags to be sold.”

“I am not acting out of ‘revenge,'” she added. “I am still in the same custody situation. After two years; I am pleading for help for the safety and best interest of our children. I am telling everyone I am about to have my kids taken after more than two years of the most unethical and disgusting actions of these attorneys. While I’m anonymous today, I wont stay this way.”

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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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6 comments

Robin Freyburger Top fan August 22, 2023 at 9:42 am

I would like to note that the guardian ad litem mentioned in the article is a paid GAL. These individuals who works private cases are often attorneys. Guardian ad Litems who handle abuse and neglect cases brought by DSS are volunteers, recruited, trained and managed by the SC Guardian ad Litem Program.

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Stop It Now August 23, 2023 at 8:52 am

For too long, there has been no oversight and no recourse for dealing with corrupt Family Court judges, who inflict their omnipotent will on hapless victims who are unfortunate enough to come before them. More often than not, the victims are males whose wives or soon to be ex-wives give the judge a piece of the action (physical or monetary) to destroy the male both financially and as a parent (custody).

There needs to be some form of independent oversight and reasonable guidlines for child support levels.

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Nickelodeon29072 Top fan November 15, 2023 at 2:45 pm

Everything you wrote is true.

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MaryContrary Top fan August 23, 2023 at 11:42 pm

Our family court system is a sham.

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Ghost Rattling Chain August 24, 2023 at 6:33 pm

A Charleston attorney who is now General Council for Clemson is said to have uttered shocking words about the system when he was in private practice.

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Nickelodeon29072 Top fan November 15, 2023 at 3:03 pm

I’ve noticed that the moment any of the participants in Family Court think they may be recorded, they freak out. That’s because everyone participating in the fleecing of the unfortunate couple going through a divorce lies….your attorney will lie, the opposing attorney will lie, God forbid kids are involved, because then the GAL(who is also usually an attorney, because to quote Carlin, “it’s a big club and you ain’t in it) will also lie…and the judges if they need to will lie and even ordering “transcripts” won’t always prevent things said from not being recorded during actual hearings.

It’s a giant, corrupt system that turns on attorney’s making bank on the litigants misery. If at all possible, try to get your spouse to settle…even if you think you’re getting screwed by your spouse for $100K it will be cheaper that paying the jackals in the system and trying to “take it all the way”.

The reason they all lie is because what everyone wants is for you for you and your spouse to “settle”…fairness, justice, truth, etc. et al don’t matter one bit. What matters is their billable hours and their reputations. They’ll “mouth” all supposedly moral motivations they have…but it’s all BS.

Lee Marvin had it right during his BS civil palimony dispute back in the late 70’s….”they all lie”. Most men know they are relatively screwed in SC when it comes to divorce(though they are exceptions obviously) and even though supposedly the “tender years” doctrine is not supposed to be in effect, it clearly is and everyone knows it. There’s little value in a father’s relationship with the children in SC courts and no value in the “truth” regardless of which spouse is the better parent for the children.

It’s truly a horrible system that victimizes the unfortunate litigants on both sides usually harming the kids(if they are any) in the process.

Reply

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