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Alex Murdaugh Coverage
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.
A state solicitor has filed an official complaint against a South Carolina judge, alleging she used her position to help Alex Murdaugh hide his financial situation in 2019 after he was sued for a fatal boat crash in which his late son Paul was the drunken driver.
The complaint against Judge Carmen Mullen of Beaufort County by 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe to the Office of Disciplinary Council and the Commission on Judicial Conduct cites a recent sworn transcript of a deposition that mentions Mullen and a court settlement worth millions of dollars.
According to the transcript, Mullen signed off on a settlement in a case where the heirs of deceased Murdaugh housekeeper Gloria Satterfield were due to get millions, knowing the settlement would be kept from public view, Pascoe’s letter asserts.
“There is now sworn testimony establishing that Judge Mullen signed the Satterfield order on May 13, 2019, knowing it would not be filed (in the public record) to prevent the litigants in the Mallory Beach matter from learning about Mr. Murdaugh’s insurance coverage and his settlement with the Satterfield estate,” Pascoe’s letter states.
Mullen did not immediately respond to a phone call and email seeking comment Tuesday.
Pascoe’s complaint and the sworn transcript are the first public allegations that Mullen was aware that her signed settlement order was not going to be filed in court. The deposition’s existence had not been made public up to Tuesday.
Pascoe, in his letter, said that he became aware of the deposition, and the questions it raised about Mullen’s conduct, after talking recently with attorney Eric Bland of Columbia.
Bland, who represents the Satterfield family, is the attorney who took Chad Westendorf’s deposition on Feb. 22 at Bland’s office. Also present was attorney Tommy Lydon, who represents Westendorf, a top banking official at Palmetto State Bank who served as the personal representative of Satterfield’s estate and as such, was legally responsible for what happened to money coming into the estate.
Pascoe’s letter says that based on Westendorf’s statements at his deposition, Bland has also filed a complaint against Judge Mullen.
Bland on Tuesday acknowledged in a text message to McClatchy newspapers that he had provided the South Carolina Bar with information about what Westendorf said under oath in his deposition concerning Judge Mullen’s conduct in the 2019 multi-million dollar Satterfield settlement.
Mullen, a circuit court judge from Hilton Head Island, had previously recused herself from matters related to a fatal boat crash lawsuit involving the prominent Murdaugh family.
Mullen’s April 2019 recusal from being involved in Murdaugh boat crash matters came about a month before she signed off on the Satterfield settlement, Pascoe noted in his letter of complaint.
“Judge Mullen’s pattern of alleged conduct threatens to erode public trust in our judiciary,” Pascoe said in his complaint. “Impropriety and dishonesty by members of our State’s judiciary cause real harm to all South Carolinians.
“When wealthy and politically connected individuals are treated as a privileged class by members of the judiciary, it erodes public trust in government and the fair administration of law.”
The transcript, of which McClatchy newspapers has obtained a copy, is of Westendorf’s sworn deposition taken last month.
Westendorf, in the deposition, said that during the May 2019 settlement hearing, attorney Cory Fleming — a longtime Murdaugh friend — told Mullen that he did not plan to immediately file the order approving a $3.8 million settlement for the Satterfield family in court “because of the publicity over the boating accident.”
Westendorf’s testimony refers to the Feb. 24, 2019, boat crash that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach near Parris Island.
Shortly after the fatal boat crash, and two months before the settlement hearing, Beach’s mother filed a wrongful death suit against Alex Murdaugh and others.
Later in his testimony, Westendorf reiterates that Mullen knew the settlement order for the Satterfield family was not going to be filed in court because of the “public scrutiny” attached to the “Mallory Beach case.”
The FBI and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) are investigating numerous alleged financial crimes by Murdaugh, including one scheme in which he allegedly diverted the millions in the Satterfield inheritance from the rightful heirs to himself, according to a state grand jury indictment.
Bland, the lawyer taking Westendorf’s deposition, asked Westendorf whether Mullen was also aware that Alex Murdaugh’s name was removed from the caption of the settlement order.
“Ever hear that discussion that the reason Alec’s name was being taken off that caption was he didn’t want Mark Tinsley, who was suing him … for the Mallory Beach boating accident, he didn’t want anybody to find out in public record that this kind of money was being paid from his homeowners insurance carrier?” Bland asked.
Westendorf, according to the testimony, said he heard Cory Fleming tell Mullen that during the settlement conference. He said Mullen responded, “I understand.”
In the deposition, Westendorf tells Bland that he (Westendorf) told the FBI and SLED about the statements he made about Mullen.
Lydon, Westendorf’s attorney, on Tuesday confirmed that his client had given the deposition to Bland. But Lydon said he had not seen a transcript.
The transcript is labeled “Rough Draft,” but it appears in near final form. It must still be signed off on by Westendorf.
Lydon said making the transcript public should clear up questions involving Westendorf’s participation in the handling of the Satterfield estate.
“After Chad having to endure months of criticism, I am glad that it is finally going to come out that everything he did was based on advice of counsel and the documents he signed were executed under the supervision of both lawyers and judges,” he said.
Pascoe had little comment when reached Tuesday.
“It’s unfortunate that the press has gotten a copy of the letter,” he said. “My intention was to not make it public or comment on it until after the Office of Disciplinary Conduct and the Judicial Conduct Commission have made a determination on whether they are going to investigate the matter.”
John Nichols of the Office of Disciplinary Conduct and the Judicial Conduct Commission declined comment.
Satterfield family settlement
Westendorf’s testimony, in which he repeatedly says he was unaware of his required duties as the personal representative of the Satterfield estate, offers fresh scrutiny for Mullen and the judicial system’s role in the Satterfield case.
The Satterfield family was thrust into the spotlight last September when a lawsuit filed by attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter alleged that Murdaugh, with the help of two friends — lawyer Cory Fleming and banker Westendorf — had orchestrated a scheme to steal $505,000 in homeowner’s insurance from the estate of Satterfield, who was living in a trailer and had been the family’s housekeeper for more than 20 years.
Later, Bland and Richter uncovered evidence that the full amount that Murdaugh’s insurance was paying out was $4.3 million, some $2.7 million of which was supposed to go to Satterfield’s two children.
Satterfield, 57, died in a 2018 fall at Murdaugh’s house, and her two sons were supposed to get money from Murdaugh’s homeowner’s insurance, the lawsuit said.
Six days after the lawsuit was filed, Bland and Richter said they uncovered a document signed by Carmen Mullen on May 13, 2019, approving a $4.3 million total settlement in the Satterfield case.
The judge’s approval wasn’t part of any public record.
Murdaugh, according to the lawsuit and arrest warrants, later funneled the settlement money to himself, laundering through a personal Bank of America checking account.
In a highly unusual request, Bland in October had sought to question Mullen under oath about her role in the settlement approval before backtracking on the request days later. The request was unusual because lawyers are not supposed to seek to question judges about their official actions.
At the time, Bland said he changed his mind about questioning Mullen for two reasons:
▪ He said Mullen’s testimony was not necessary because he uncovered more evidence that proved Murdaugh, Fleming and Westendorf’s roles in the scheme;
▪ Second, Bland said, after saying he intended to take a Mullen’s videotaped deposition, he “took some heat” and “commentary” from people in the state’s legal profession who objected strenuously to his trying to take the deposition of a judge. He declined to elaborate or identify the critics.
Pascoe said in the letter Mullen’s conduct in the Satterfield matter must be investigated.
“Her handling of this matter demonstrates a lack of competence at a minimum and implicates the Code of Judicial Conduct,” wrote Pascoe. “Judges are meant to be the gatekeepers of fairness and impartiality. …”
During his years as a special prosecutor investigating public corruption in the S.C. General Assembly, Pascoe was involved in several high-profile public disputes with Mullen over legal issues in some of the cases.
This story was originally published March 1, 2022 2:00 PM.