Alex Murdaugh facing disbarment over alleged insurance fraud
Post & Courier (Charleston, SC)
COLUMBIA - The S.C. Supreme Court is ending its investigation of Alex Murdaugh and moving to yank his law license, saying the disgraced Hampton attorney's public admissions of dishonesty and "egregious ethical misconduct" are enough to disqualify him from the courtroom.
Murdaugh will not contest the high court's decision, his defense attorney, Jim Griffin, told The Post and Courier. The justices have ordered Murdaugh to appear before them at 11 a.m. June 22 to finalize the matter, arranging for him to be picked up from the Richland County jail where he has been detained since mid-October.
Griffin called the Supreme Court's decision to cut short its administrative probe of Murdaugh "unusual and unprecedented." Wrapping up the matter early puts Murdaugh in a tough position, Griffin said, since anything Murdaugh admits or says in his defense at next week's hearing can be used against him in the ongoing state and federal investigations of him.
Still, the Supreme Court's decision makes sense, according to Michael Virzi, an attorney and former legal misconduct investigator for the state.
"It is unusual, but these are unusual circumstances," Virzi said. "As much more as there may be to learn about Alex Murdaugh, he's admitted to enough to warrant disbarment. It does make sense to me as a matter of judicial resources."
The Supreme Court suspended Murdaugh's law license on Sept. 7 amid allegations the once-prominent trial attorney had stolen untold sums from his law firm, and days after his hospitalization from a bizarre roadside shooting.
But Murdaugh's personal and professional unraveling was only beginning. The scion of a powerful and wealthy family of lawyers in southern South Carolina, Murdaugh became the focus of international intrigue last June after the still-unsolved murders of his wife and son at their Colleton County estate.
Over the next few months, he would become a magnet for civil lawsuits and criminal charges alleging he used fraudulent bank accounts, willing co-conspirators and his position as a lawyer to steal nearly $9 million from his legal clients, law partners and others who trusted him.
Murdaugh and his defense attorneys have admitted to some of the misconduct, a fact the Supreme Court noted in its June 16 order. Last month, for example, he confessed to a $4.3 million civil judgment for stealing millions of dollars from a wrongful death settlement that he helped generate for the sons of his late housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield. He also has acknowledged stealing from the Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, Detrick law firm his great-grandfather founded in Hampton in 1910.
And he admitted to lying in September about the roadside shooting.
After he survived the incident, Murdaugh and his attorneys initially claimed he was shot by a passerby as he pulled over to inspect a flat tire. Later, he changed his story and said he had a hitman shoot him in the head so he could leave behind a $10 million insurance policy for his remaining son, Buster Murdaugh. State police charged Murdaugh with insurance fraud and filing a false police report in connection with the fiasco. The man accused of shooting him has disputed Murdaugh's versions of events.
Usually, complaints of misconduct by lawyers are quietly and secretly investigated by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, an arm of the Supreme Court, and then judged by a separate panel, the Commission on Lawyer Conduct. From there, serious findings of misconduct can be forwarded to the Supreme Court for possible discipline.
Indeed, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel had been investigating Murdaugh since at least September, digging into cases where he was later charged with stealing money from settlements and legal judgments he won for his clients.
But since Murdaugh had publicly admitted to lying and other misconduct at several points over the past few months, "we find there is no need to expend additional resources to proceed through the normal disciplinary process," justices wrote in their June 16 order.
The June 22 hearing will be livestreamed and open to the public.
Disbarred lawyers can apply for reinstatement after five years. They must pay a $1,500 fee, retake the Bar exam and prove to a committee they have turned their lives around and are again worthy of trust.
But for now, Murdaugh has bigger problems. He faces decades in prison and financial ruin from nearly a dozen outstanding civil lawsuits against him.