Opinion: SC lawmakers shouldn’t be part of the Murdaugh case
They think we don’t see them.
Or that we’re too stupid to care.
But the whole world is now watching lawyers make a farce of justice in the Murdaugh murder and fraud cases that rocked the South Carolina Lowcountry like a hurricane shaking a palm tree.
The problem is that the power brokers know the bottom line: there is nothing we can do about it except flinch.
It is outrageous that at least two attorneys, who are also powerful state lawmakers, are running the courts on the bundle of cases to clean up so far related to the Hampton family Murdaugh.
The justice of the Murdaughs was already in question, having served as chief prosecutors for three generations for 87 years in control of the criminal justice system in this five-county area.
And now anyone seeking justice is blinded by the oversized presence of Senate Senator Dick Harpootlian, D-Columbia, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the Chairman of the House Ways and Means, Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, who presides the judiciary committee of the legislature has merit selection commission that works in the courtrooms.
That should be against the law.
Their mere presence – which is not against the law and indeed fits right in with the legislature’s concept of ethical conduct – turns the notion that all parties are treated equally in our criminal justice system into a cartoonish farce.
Welcome to South Carolina.
“Justice” in South Carolina
Remember, South Carolina is one of only two states where lawmakers elect the most judges.
Legislature therefore controls the livelihood of all judges who will direct over any future criminal or civil cases of the Murdaugh Chaos, which to date has included five deaths, a so-called fake suicide, millions of dollars missing and allegations of backroom harassment among attorneys and judges.
So any state lawmaker who works in a courtroom immediately has a heavy thumb on the scales of justice.
They seem to think that we peons don’t understand this.
But it’s getting worse.
The Legislature’s Judicial Merit Selection Commission, chaired by Murrell Smith, decides which candidates for judge will be put to the legislature’s vote.
And that brings us to this beautiful scene in our courtrooms: Smith faces a judge who is due to be re-elected next year.
Smith, who sees no conflict in this scene, is representing a defendant in a civil lawsuit for wrongful death.
The lawsuit was filed by the mother of 19-year-old Mallory Beach. She was killed in the 2019 crash of a boat owned by Alex Murdaugh allegedly driven by his drunken son Paul Murdaugh, who was charged with three crime in the case before he and his mother were shot and killed on June 7.
Paul Murdaugh was represented by Harpootlian, who now represents Alex Murdaugh, who is being prosecuted in connection with his alleged plot to have himself killed after he was accused of hiring millions from the family law firm Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED) ” embezzled ”. in Hampton.
The grocery store where underage Paul Murdaugh bought beer on misty Archer’s Creek the afternoon before the fatal boat crash is a defendant on the wrongful death lawsuit.
Which raises another potential conflict.
An argument for change
The convenience store chain owner recently appealed to state lawmakers to amend state law to better protect businesses from paying a disproportionate share of plaintiffs’ damages for having money while others don’t.
That’s a good point, but a lawyer-controlled legislature was not receptive.
But it has long been a potential conflict when lawmakers are hired by people with a personal interest in the law.
In the good old days, not so long ago, the most powerful lawmakers in the state were turned off by the utility companies and gave the old guys an extra paycheck.
This practice was banned.
With all the attention the Murdaughs have now paid to this area (we have even been blessed by Nancy Disgrace), it’s hard to remember that justice itself is on trial here.
And if justice is ever to prevail in this state, lawmakers must leave the courtroom.
Seated legislators should not be allowed to exercise the right.
This is how it will happen. I was told that 30% of the House of Representatives and 40% of the Senate are lawyers.
And it would cost us two of our best – Senator Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and State Rep. Weston Newton, R-Bluffton.
But something has to change.
Former Governor Carroll Campbell advocated this specific change, and it’s a good idea.
Campbell wasn’t a lawyer. A successful businessman, with 30 congressmen and two-time governor from 1987 to 1995, he brought the Republican Party back into fashion in South Carolina.
He worked hard to move some of the power in this state from legislative to executive. He did so in the midst of the shameful “Lost Trust” scandal over the legislature’s vote-buying.
He also saw the need to curb the legislature’s lockdown on the judiciary.
He was right. Now we can all see why he thought that. And we’re not too stupid to care.
David Lauderdale can be contacted at [email protected]