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Home / AP News Roundup / Judge to consider lowering $7M bond for prominent South Carolina lawyer

Judge to consider lowering $7M bond for prominent South Carolina lawyer

Prominent South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh was scheduled for a virtual hearing Monday as a judge could consider lowering the $7 million bond she set last month.

Murdaugh’s attorneys are asking Circuit Judge Alison Renee Lee to reconsider her bond order, arguing in a filing last week that the $7 million effectively amounts to a no bond decision because Murdaugh has no money.

The 53-year-old heir to a legal empire in Hampton County, South Carolina, has been jailed since his arrest in October on a growing number of charges for mostly financial crimes. Prosecutors have accused Murdaugh of stealing more than $6.2 million from about a dozen clients between 2015 and 2020 by using a fraudulent bank account to divert settlement and other money to himself.

Lee said in December that Murdaugh must pay the entire $7 million if he wants to leave jail to go on house arrest with electronic monitoring, get counseling and be randomly drug tested.

“Mr. Murdaugh does not have seven million dollars or anything close to that amount,” the attorneys wrote. “Mr. Murdaugh is a man who cannot pay his phone bill.”

A judge in a separate civil suit Murdaugh faces froze his assets in November, and court-appointed receivers now control every cent. That order bars Murdaugh from using his own money or property to post bail, according to the filing.

Murdaugh used the money he stole to pay bank overdraft fees, credit card payments, checks written to friends and family and other items, indictments state. His victims ranged from family friends and a state trooper to an undocumented immigrant and a person injured in a car wreck, prosecutors have said.

Lee’s initial bond order exceeded amounts recommended by prosecutors, who had suggested the judge either set bond at the $6.2 million Murdaugh was accused of stealing or a lesser figure of $4.7 million — about $100,000 for each count.

Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were prosecutors in tiny Hampton County, where every road leading to the county seat is two lanes.

The family’s law firm, located in the most impressive building in town after the courthouse, has spent a century winning multimillion-dollar verdicts, though the firm stripped the Murdaugh moniker from its name last week.

Murdaugh’s legal troubles began after his wife, Maggie, and son Paul were found shot dead outside a family home last summer. Their killings remain unsolved, and Murdaugh’s lawyers say he has denied having anything to do with their deaths.

He faces a separate set of charges in what prosecutors have described as a scheme to have himself killed to secure a $10 million insurance payout to his surviving son Buster.

All the charges against Murdaugh are felonies and he could face more than 500 years in prison if convicted of all them.

The criminal investigations and civil suits Murdaugh faces have also prompted increased scrutiny into the actions of his affiliates.

A bank whose executives Murdaugh steered some of his clients toward to act as conservators or personal representatives fired its CEO last week after a group investigating unethical or illegal behavior by lawyers sent a subpoena asking for records.

Russell Laffitte was fired by the Palmetto State Bank’s board. In a statement, the Hampton-based bank said it remains “fully committed to their customers, employees, shareholders, and the communities Palmetto State Bank serves.”

The statement did not say why Laffitte was fired, but The Island Packet of Hilton Head reported the move came after the newspaper asked about requests from the state Supreme Court’s Office Of Disciplinary Counsel for records of cases where Laffitte acted as an official to help Murdaugh’s clients and their families handle legal settlements.

The bank has said Laffitte and another executive named in court documents, Chad Westdendorf, were acting on their own and not as representatives of the bank when they worked with Murdaugh.

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