COLUMBIA — Attorneys for disgraced Hampton County lawyer Alex Murdaugh are trying to block the Richland County jail from releasing any more recordings of their client’s jailhouse calls after his conversations with relatives were aired on a podcast last week.
Columbia attorneys Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian filed a federal lawsuit Feb. 28 seeking to prevent the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center from releasing any more of Murdaugh’s calls. They argue the facility and its interim director, D. Shane Kitchens, violated a federal wiretapping law that forbids the release of inmate phone calls in response to an open-records request.
The filing comes days after FITSNews.com and the Murdaugh Murders Podcast published transcripts and audio from nearly a dozen Murdaugh calls that they obtained from the jail through a Freedom of Information Act request in January. Such tapes are rarely — if ever — released to the public before a defendant’s trial.
The released calls feature Murdaugh discussing finances and his ongoing legal problems with his relatives, including his brothers, sister and son Buster. The audio offers a new window into the mindset of a man at the center of an unfolding murder mystery saga that has spun off revelations of fraud and corruption in the often-overlooked southern tip of South Carolina’s Lowcountry.
Murdaugh has said little publicly since the still-unsolved double murders of his wife, Maggie, and son Paul in June. The scion of a powerful legal family in Hampton County, Murdaugh has been stuck in the Richland County jail since mid-October as a wave of criminal investigations and civil lawsuits bear down on him.
His law license has been suspended, and he likely faces disbarment and a lengthy prison sentence amid accusations he stole millions of dollars from his clients’ settlement amounts.
The Feb. 28 lawsuit by his attorneys starts a legal battle that could decide whether such inmate calls are considered public records in South Carolina.
"We believe these are public records, as did the public entity that provided them," said Will Folks, founding editor of FITSNews, adding that his site would continue to push for all government records not protected by attorney-client privilege.
Griffin declined to comment. Efforts to reach Richland County officials for comment were unsuccessful on Feb. 28.
The tapes feature nearly a dozen phone calls Murdaugh made from jail between mid-October and Dec. 9, including conversations between Murdaugh and his son, his brothers Randy and John Marvin Murdaugh, and his sister Lynn.
In the audio played on the Murdaugh Murders podcast, Murdaugh urges his son to work hard to get reinstated to the University of South Carolina’s School of Law. He repeatedly asks Buster Murdaugh if he has enough money to cover his living expenses, pledging he can borrow money from his brother and pay him back when he is released from jail.
Murdaugh speaks optimistically about his lawyers’ efforts to have him released from jail on bond, efforts that later proved fruitless. He talks in vague terms about his finances and different pools of money.
He pleads with relatives to send him and fellow inmates cash to spend at the facility’s canteen.
His brother John Marvin Murdaugh breaks news to him that the family’s longtime law firm — Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Elzroth, Detrick — has dissolved and rebranded as the Parker Law Group in the face of negative publicity.
John Marvin also discloses that the state Supreme Court has suspended the law license of one of Murdaugh’s closest friends, Cory Fleming, in response to allegations that Fleming allowed Murdaugh to siphon away money owed to the estate of Murdaugh’s late housekeeper.
John Marvin stresses that others in Alex Murdaugh’s orbit are being implicated as enablers and co-conspirators in his alleged schemes. John Marvin urges his brother to admit to any allegations that are accurate and clear the names of anyone who wasn’t involved.
Those tapes, Murdaugh’s attorneys argue, should never have been released. In court filings, they disclose that they sent the jail a cease-and-desist letter and called the Richland County attorney but received no response.
They have asked a federal judge to forbid the jail from releasing any more tapes “and to prevent further exploitation of (Murdaugh’s) conversations for commercial gain.”
Griffin and Harpootlian asked a judge to award them attorneys’ fees if they win.
The Post and Courier filed a formal request for the tapes, as well as other Murdaugh records that have been provided to media outlets, on Feb. 22. The county has not responded to the newspaper’s request.