BY JOHN MONK UPDATED MARCH 01, 2022 5:40 PM
Alex Murdaugh’s lawyer says client bears ‘some responsibility’ with insurance fraud Lawyers for Alex Murdaugh speak to the media on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021 after Murdaugh’s Richland County bond hearing.
BY MAAYAN SCHECHTER | JOSHUA BOUCHER
The Murdaugh family saga has dominated the news after another shooting, a resignation and criminal accusations — with Alex Murdaugh at the center of it all. Here are the latest updates on Alex Murdaugh.
COLUMBIA, SC Attorneys for jailed lawyer Alex Murdaugh filed a lawsuit Monday against the interim director of Richland County’s Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center over the alleged improper release to the public last month of Murdaugh’s phone calls from jail. The lawsuit, filed in federal court, seeks to prevent the further release to the public of any taped phone conversations between Murdaugh and others, including his family members. The lawsuit named Shane Kitchens, interim director of the detention center, as defendant in the case. Kitchens did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
McClatchy, publisher of The State and the Hilton Head Island Packet, has also requested recordings of Murdaugh’s jail phone calls but has not yet received any. “The reason we filed the lawsuit is to prevent any further disclosure of his intercepted telephone conversations to the public in order to protect Alex’s rights to a fair criminal proceedings and to avoid further exploitation of Alex and his family members in their personal communications,” said attorney Jim Griffin, who represents Murdaugh along with lawyer Sen. Dick Harpootlian.
Recordings of Murdaugh’s conversations were aired on internet site FITSNews.com and a podcast, Murdaugh Murders. The organization said it had obtained the recordings by means of a Freedom of Information request. The release to the public of taped inmate telephone calls, as unprecedented as that is, appears to be legal under South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act, said Jay Bender, a Columbia attorney who has long been one of the state’s foremost media lawyers. Bender has represented the S.C. Press Association and McClatchy newspapers in media cases over the years. “It’s very creative that they (FITSNews) made the request. My thought is that inmates know their telephone conversations are being recorded, so the inmate would have no expectation of privacy with respect to the content of the calls, and since tapes that are in the possession of a public body are public records, they are public,” Bender said.
“If you and I are ever in jail, we just have to remember that our conversations are being recorded, and in South Carolina, conversations recorded by a public body are subject to disclosure — it ain’t going to be private,” Bender added. MURDAUGH MADE JAIL CALLS TO MOSTLY FAMILY Murdaugh, 53, has been jailed in Richland County since mid-October on a slew of financial theft charges that total $8.4 million. He is unable to make a bond of $7 million. Murdaugh’s case has attracted national attention because of the unsolved shooting deaths of his wife and son last June, as well as his alleged financial crimes, said to be among the state’s largest breaches of trust ever by a South Carolina lawyer.
“His criminal case has attracted intense media attention, from national, regional, and local news organizations, as well as from pod casters and bloggers on social media sites,” the lawsuit filed by Murdaugh’s attorneys said. The lawsuit said that federal law “prohibits the disclosure of recorded telephone communications of inmates to the public in response to a records request.” Murdaugh made nearly 100 outgoing phone calls in a two-month period, most of them to his two brothers, John Marvin and Randy, as well as with his sister, Lynn, and sister-in-law, Liz, according to FITSNews.com and the lawsuit. Murdaugh also spoke with his sole surviving son, Buster, the internet site said. The conversations show that Murdaugh, despite being charged with abusing his position as a lawyer and allegedly stealing $8.4 million from clients and people who trusted him, still maintained civil, if not cordial, relations with his family. In the conversations, Murdaugh also appears to be caught unaware on major developments related to his case.
For example, around the New Year, Murdaugh’s brother John Marvin broke the news that the law firm, which contained the Murdaugh name for more than 100 years, had changed the name to Parker Law Group. “These conversations were made available to paid subscribers on the electronic media organization’s website,” the lawsuit said. “Subsequently, other news organizations have submitted similar FOIA requests for copies of Plaintiff’s intercepted telephone communications.” The lawyers have asked the court to “to prevent further exploitation of his private conversations for commercial gain.”
CALL DISCLOSURES RARE, BUT MEDIA LAWYER SAYS NOT BREACH OF LAW
The lawsuit said that the detention center contracts with a third-party communication provider to process outgoing collect phone calls from inmates, creates and stores the records, and makes them accessible to the detention center. “Due to understaffing, (the detention center) does not have any correctional officers who review and/or monitor inmate telephone calls in the ordinary course of their duties,” Murdaugh’s attorneys said in their lawsuit. Though inmates are told all phone calls are recorded and monitored, inmates are “not informed that recordings of these calls will be provided to the public,” the lawsuit said. It has long been known that law enforcement has the right to tape record any and all inmate telephone calls made from a jail or prison. It is not uncommon for prosecutors to play recordings in court before a jury to support criminal charges against an inmate. Inmates are warned that all recordings are recorded. However, it is often rare that jails or prisons release such recordings to the news media. “I am unaware of any jail disclosing recorded telephone conversations with an inmate to the public,” Griffin told The State. “It certainly can open up a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences for both prosecutors and defense lawyers.” News media lawyer Bender said he reviewed the public records law and laws cited in Murdaugh’s complaint seeking to keep the phone calls private, but said he disputes the call’s privacy. The only measures that could stop inmates’ phone calls from being released to the public would be an amendment to South Carolina’s public records law stopping the disclosure, or a ruling from the federal court preempting the public record law and stopping release of the tapes, Bender said. “Inmates have always known their conversations are recorded, and only the dumb ones said stuff that got them in trouble,” he said. The presiding judge in the case is Bruce Hendricks and the magistrate judge is Jacquelyn D. Austin.
This story was originally published February 28, 2022 5:31 PM.
Read more at: https://www.thestate.com/news/local/crime/article258894428.html#storylink=cpy