A lawyer for victims of the wide-reaching financial crimes of Alex Murdaugh has vowed to oppose an effort by the disgraced attorney to use personal funds to cover the costs of appealing his murder conviction.
Murdaugh, once a scion of the South Carolina legal community, was convicted earlier this month of the double murder of his wife, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, and their youngest son, Paul Murdaugh.
But murder was not his only crime.
According to the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office — which has issued 19 different indictments — Murdaugh stole at least $8.7 million from his clients over the years.
Justin Bamberg, a lawyer based in the city of Bamberg, South Carolina, represents the survivors of HaKeem Pinckney, who died after being paralyzed in a horrific car wreck, and Blondell Gary, who was also killed in a vehicle accident. Murdaugh had previously represented their respective estates in wrongful death and negligence lawsuits, apparently garnering hundreds of thousands of dollars ostensibly on behalf of his clients.
Murdaugh, however, kept the money for himself.
On Tuesday, attorneys for Murdaugh filed a motion in the wrongful death case brought by Renee Beach, whose 19-year-old daughter, Mallory Beach, was killed when a boat piloted by Paul Murdaugh slammed into a bridge piling at around 2:00 am in February 2019. The parties settled earlier this year.
According to the “motion for payment of attorneys’ fees and cost from untainted funds,” Murdaugh is asking for $160,000 to be transferred from a dedicated “Receivers” account to Murdaugh’s lawyers. The Receivers account is funded by what remains of Murdaugh’s liquidated 401(k) retirement account: some $425,000 is left in the account after $600,000 was initially withdrawn to cover Murdaugh’s defense of him at his murder trial, according to the court filing.
The motion says that Murdaugh’s funds from the retirement account have been “exhausted,” and that he has a Sixth Amendment right to hire the lawyer he wants to represent him on appeal, and is asking that the money be released.
“A defendant’s right to counsel of his choice, whom the defendant can afford to hire with ‘innocent’ property, is a fundamental constitutional right,” the motion says, appearing to offer little more than the fact that the funds are from Murdaugh’s retirement account as proof that the property is “innocent.” Murdaugh’s lawyer also implies that additional legitimate funds have been put into the “Receivers” account, although the brief is thin on details.
“These funds are legitimate, untainted funds,” the motion says. “Furthermore, the undersigned is informed and believes that there are additional funds that have been deposited into the Receivers’ escrow account that do not represent the proceeds from illegal activities.”
The motion also argues that requiring Murdaugh to rely on a public defender for his appeal would further weigh down a system that is already overwhelmed with trying to assist “truly indigent” clients.
Bamberg doesn’t buy it.
“Alex Murdaugh should NOT be entitled to deprive his financial victims of the limited amount of funds available — not a single penny, Bitcoin, Dogecoin, or anything else of value — so he can continue trying to get or keep himself out of prison,” Bamberg wrote in a note posted to Twitter on Wednesday.
According to Bamberg, Murdaugh’s money cannot be separated from his crime.
“None of Alex’s money is ‘untainted’ in my opinion based on his admissions during his murder trial,” Bamberg wrote.
Bamberg says that there is no way Murdaugh’s retirement funds are “legitimate” because “an obvious contributing factor to his ability to even put that kind of money away over the course of his legal career was the simple fact he was actively stealing MILLIONS from clients and using that stolen money to pay for stuff he desired instead of relying solely on any legitimately earned income[.]”
Bamberg notes that Murdaugh had years to compile his ill-gotten gains, including from funds that were supposed to go to his clients.
“He was paid a six-figure salary by his former law firm, earned credit for legal fees the firm received on cases that he stole money on, got credit for those fees and in turn, he received an annual bonus on those fees despite his unconsciously lying, backstabbing, and cheating his clients out of money these people LITERALLY cried, bled, had surgery or suffered through a funeral to get,” Bamberg said. “Absolutely hell no. That’s not right.”
Bamberg said that Murdaugh should be required to “apply for a public defender just like ANYBODY ELSE WITH NO REAL MONEY FOR A LAWYER is forced to do EVERY SINGLE DAY in this world — including most of the people prosecuted by his own family when they were Solicitor over the last 100 years[.]”
On behalf of my clients — many victims of his financial crimes, including the late HaKeem Pinckney, the late Blondell Gary, and others reliving their personal trauma that are still with us — I will be formally OBJECTING to Alex Murdaugh’s request… pic.twitter.com/Z0jhI8etDU
— Justin Bamberg, Esq. (@JustinBamberg) March 23, 2023
Mark Tinsley, who represents Beach, told Law & Crime that the court will ultimately decide what happens with the money, but indicated that the transfer of funds is beyond what was originally agreed.
“When Alex’s lawyers asked us to agree to the liquidation of the 401k account, it was based on the offer of a certain sum coming back into the receiver account fund for the victims,” Tinsley said in an email. “They knew or should have known how much their costs were going to be. The fact that they were wrong or spent unwisely or whatever the case may be is not a material change in circumstances that would warrant the court undoing its prior order or that would warrant setting aside the agreement of the parties as it relates to allowing the funds from the 401k to be received by Alex’s counsel.”
Bamberg did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s request as to when he expects to file his objection.
Following his conviction, Murdaugh was ordered to serve two consecutive life sentences by Judge Clifton Newman, who noted that the lawyer-turned-convicted-murderer now faces the same fate as those whom he had previously prosecuted.
Murdaugh is appealing the conviction.
Colin Kalmabacher contributed to this report.
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