Alex Murdaugh to have virtual bond hearing Friday with different judge, lawyer says. Why?

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Alex Murdaugh will have a virtual bond hearing on Friday on the multiple indictments of financial misconduct in front of a different South Carolina judge from the one previously designated to handle his cases, according to his lawyer.

Murdaugh’s hearing will take place in Richland County virtually at 9 a.m., Murdaugh lawyer Jim Griffin said Monday evening.

It will be in front of Judge Alison Renee Lee, of Richland County, even though Judge Clifton Newman was designated by the S.C. Supreme Court in September as the judge to handle all Alex Murdaugh’s criminal matters.

The judge switch comes amid a fight over whether Alex Murdaugh should receive bond, as Griffin and Murdaugh’s other attorney, Dick Harpootlian, filed a response Monday to the S.C. Attorney General’s office, which sought to keep Murdaugh jailed.

Newman twice denied Murdaugh bond on charges that he embezzled millions meant for his deceased housekeeper’s estate. The judge called him “a danger both to himself and the community.”

Hours after the bond denial became public in October, Griffin and Harpootlian filed a writ of habeas corpus with the S.C. Supreme Court, asking the court to step in. Habeas corpus is a legal doctrine enshrined in the U.S. Constitution as a right to challenge the government keeping someone jailed without cause.

Last week, the Attorney General’s office responded, arguing Newman has authority to protect Murdaugh from himself and the community and that Murdaugh would have bond hearings coming up — the proper venue to argue over whether he should remain in jail, not in the Supreme Court. The response was reviewed by The Island Packet, Beaufort Gazette and The State but is not public due to medical information included.

Murdaugh’s constitutional rights are not “suggestions that can be disregarded or selectively enforced at the discretion of the presiding judge,” Griffin and Harpootlian argued in a motion Monday responding to the AG’s office.

The lawyers also took aim at the newly scheduled bond hearing on the indictments.

Murduagh’s lawyers “opposed the State’s last-minute attempt to schedule a bond hearing in an apparent effort to avoid responding to the constitutional arguments presented” in the writ of habeas corpus, they wrote. “It is difficult to imagine any other reason why the State suddenly sought attempt to schedule a bond hearing for someone already held without bond on other charges.”

Suspended SC lawyer Alex Murdaugh, seated, head downcast, listens to lawyer Ronnie Richter describe his alleged crime in court Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021 at Murdaugh’s bond hearing in Richland County, S.C.
Suspended SC lawyer Alex Murdaugh, seated, head downcast, listens to lawyer Ronnie Richter describe his alleged crime in court Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021 at Murdaugh’s bond hearing in Richland County, S.C.

Why a different judge?

On Sept. 28, S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty assigned Newman to handle all pretrial matters related to the “criminal investigations concerning Richard Alexander Murdaugh.”

The order came before a slew of new charges and indictments for the suspended Hampton lawyer.

But on Friday, Beatty ordered that “the matter of the setting of bail and any motions to adjust the amount or conditions of bail for defendants indicted by the State Grand Jury of South Carolina shall be heard by the presiding judge of the state grand jury,” according to a signed order.

Everything after that, such as the trial or a plea, will be handled by Newman, the order said.

The presiding judge of the state grand jury in Richland County is Lee. The grand jury that indicted Murdaugh was from Richland County. Therefore, Lee will handle the bond on the indictments, and Newman will take over after.

“It’s unusual,” Griffin said of the arrangement. He said attorneys received notice on Monday morning of the virtual hearing in front of Lee.

On Nov. 19, the S.C. Attorney General’s Office indicted Murdaugh on 27 counts of financial crimes, alleging that he stole a total of $4.8 million across five counties from 2015 to as recently as May. The indictments accuse Murdaugh of laundering the funds through a bank account with a fake name. He used funds that were meant for clients and for his family law firm PMPED, they said.

Judge Lee will decide whether to grant bond to Murdaugh on those charges.

Alex Murdaugh faces new charges for felony counts of obtaining property by false pretenses on Oct. 14, 2021 related to misappropriated settlement funds in the case of Gloria Satterfield, Murdaugh’s deceased housekeeper, according to the S.C. Law Enforcement Division. He was taken into custody by SLED upon release from a rehabilitation facility in Orlando, Florida.
Alex Murdaugh faces new charges for felony counts of obtaining property by false pretenses on Oct. 14, 2021 related to misappropriated settlement funds in the case of Gloria Satterfield, Murdaugh’s deceased housekeeper, according to the S.C. Law Enforcement Division. He was taken into custody by SLED upon release from a rehabilitation facility in Orlando, Florida.

New details on Murdaugh’s mental health treatment

Also at issue in the bond fight is Murdaugh’s mental state and whether he is a danger to himself.

In a footnote on Monday’s filing, Murdaugh’s lawyers described the treatment he was receiving before being arrested.

“Mr. Murdaugh had completed a phase of treatment in Florida and was proceeding immediately to Massachusetts to continue his treatment when he was arrested on the charges for which he was denied bond. It is richly ironic the State would remove him from a mental health treatment facility and then argue his need for mental health treatment is sufficient cause to deny his constitutional right to reasonable bond,” the filing said.

The treatment in Florida was after Murdaugh received bond in Hampton County in September from a local magistrate judge, on charges he arranged his own murder for a $10 million insurance payout.

His lawyers said he was battling a severe opioid addiction.

Dr. Donna Maddox, a psychiatrist, evaluated Murdaugh and diagnosed him with a “severe Opioid disorder,” according to Murdaugh’s petition for habeas corpus.

“Dr. Maddox did not find that (Murdaugh) is a danger to himself or to the community,” the petition said.

However, Newman considered Maddox’s evaluation in denying Murdaugh’s bond on Nov. 9.

“After considering the arguments of counsel, the (psychiatric) evaluation submitted, pending charges and other investigations, and the apparent character and mental condition of the defendant, the Court finds that the Defendant is a danger both to himself and the community,” Newman wrote in his order.

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