Bland Richter files "Memorandum in Opposition to Murdaugh’s Motion to Dismiss"
Civil attorneys are sparring as the number of criminal cases – and possible lawsuits –surrounding former South Carolina attorney Richard "Alex" Murdaugh continue to mount, but one legal team says enough is enough with "inflammatory" comments.
Less than a week after Murdaugh was served five new criminal indictments, detailing 27 new counts of financial crimes, attorneys for Murdaugh have filed an emergency motion for a gag order and sanctions against Eric Bland, one of the attorneys representing the estate of Gloria Satterfield, the late Murdaugh housekeeper.
The Nov. 22 motion, filed by attorneys Richard Harpootlian and James M. Griffin in Hampton County Court of Common Pleas, is in connection with a civil suit Bland Richter, LLP, filed against Murdaugh over roughly $4.3 million in insurance monies Murdaugh allegedly stole from Satterfield's heirs. The housekeeper died in 2018 following a "trip and fall" incident at Murdaugh's Colleton County home.
The motion seeks to prohibit "Mr. Bland from making any further statements to the media concerning Defendant or his lawyers while this action remains pending that do not fall within the exceptions allowed by Rule 3.6(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Defendant also moves for sanctions, including an award of costs and reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in this motion, and referral of Mr. Bland’s conduct to the Office of Disciplinary counsel."
South Carolina Rule of Professional Conduct 3.6(a), cited in the motion, prohibits a lawyer participating in litigation from making out-of-court statements that the lawyer knows or should know will prejudice the proceedings.
Money, murder, mystery: Another twist unfolds in case of former South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh
The suit alleges that Bland has made and continues to make statements to news media in violation of those rules, adding "Mr. Bland provides the news media with a constant stream of ad hominem attacks on Mr. Murdaugh, an opposing party, and his counsel whenever there is a new court filing or case development for the deliberate purpose of prejudicing the adjudicative process."
The motion contends that Bland's "inflammatory rhetoric" to the media concerning both Murdaugh and his legal counsel would not only influence a jury pool and prejudice pending court proceedings, they are also disclosing information regarding pending criminal cases that may be inadmissible during a civil trial:
"These highly publicized media statements regarding Mr. Murdaugh are meant to prejudice prosecutors, judges, and, ultimately, jurors against Mr. Murdaugh. By publicly vilifying Mr. Murdaugh in the media over a period of months while simultaneously suing him in a legal proceeding, Mr. Bland hopes to prejudice the legal proceedings to award him and his client more punitive damages by inflaming the jury pool and by making it impossible for Mr. Murdaugh to say or do anything to mitigate his alleged actions. Mr. Bland does not care that a collateral effect of his smear campaign will be to prejudice criminal legal proceedings against Mr. Murdaugh, which share the same jury pool."
The 17-page motion included quotes and excerpts from 11 statements reportedly made by Bland and quoted in various media outlets, that Murdaugh's attorneys allege are "attacking" and "vilifying" Murdaugh, and are "advocating" for additional criminal charges, including federal financial crime charges, against Murdaugh.
Satterfield lawsuit: Motion filed to dismiss as new settlements emerge
The motion contains this statement from Bland in a podcast, The Murdaugh Murders, "...everybody talks about Larry Gene Bell and all these other people Pee Wee Gaskins and they’re killers there’s no question about it, and there is a difference right now, but he is as morally bankrupt as they are."
"The reference to Pee Wee Gaskins was particularly insulting," Harpootlian wrote in the motion. "Mr. Bland is aware that Mr. Gaskins was prosecuted by Mr. Harpootlian. Mr. Bland knows stealing money is in no way morally equivalent to murdering more than a dozen people and raping girls as young as 12 years old."
On Tuesday, the day after the motion was filed, Bland Richter issued the following statement:
"Alex Murdaugh would have been better served to have filed a motion to gag his own counsel, Dick Harpootlian, before Mr. Harpootlian admitted on national television that Murdaugh was guilty of the very financial crimes with which he has been charged and that he was resolved with the fact that he would be spending extended time in jail:
'He has indicated clearly that he is going to try to right every wrong – financial wrong – and others that he may have committed. Look, he’s reconciled to the fact he’s going to prison. He understands that. He’s a lawyer.' Richard “Dick” Harpootlian to Good Morning America.
"To suggest through a motion that seeks desperately to walk back the harm inflicted on Mr. Murdaugh by his own legal team on Good Morning America (not to mention like comments made to Craig Melvin of NBC Today’s Show, during the press gaggle after the October 19, 2021 bond hearing, at Mr. Murdaugh’s original bond hearing regarding crimes committed in connection with the cousin Eddie alleged assisted suicide incident) that somehow something Eric Bland said on a podcast or in a news article has prejudiced the defense of Alex Murdaugh is at best a revisionist’s view of the history that the moving party himself has authored. More pointedly, the motion is an illusionist’s attempt to distract attention away from harm that he has inflicted upon his own client by his very attorney. A thorough response in opposition to the motion is forthcoming."
Murdaugh attorneys also allege that Bland's media statements are possibly accusing Murdaugh of murdering Gloria Satterfield. The motion contains this quote from Bland: “They [Ms. Satterfield’s sons] want to believe that their mother died accidentally. But then [.].. it’s a stark reality that this is a really bad person. Alex Murdaugh is a really, really, really bad person. That’s the bottom line. That’s the tough pill to swallow…. There’s no bottom to him.”
South Carolina Rule of Professional Conduct 3.6(a) states, "A lawyer who is participating or has participated in the investigation or litigation of a matter shall not make an extrajudicial statement that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter." There are several exceptions outlined in this rule of conduct, however.
The motion does not include Bland's co-counsel, Ronnie Richter, or other attorneys in this case, and adds that Murdaugh's attorneys do not object to a gag order that applies equally to them as well.
Bland Richter files Memo in Opposition to Dismiss
On Nov. 23, Bland Richter filed a "Memorandum in Opposition to Murdaugh’s Motion to Dismiss" in H.C. Court of Common Pleas.
This memo alleges that not only does Murdaugh still owe the $4.3 million allegedly stolen, he also owes the Satterfield Estate interest and taxes on this money, as well as punitive damages. Applying conservatively a five time punitive multiplier, Murdaugh’s damages exposure is $38,990,350, alleges the memo.
The memo calls Murdaugh's motion to dismiss "fatally flawed" and "akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – it will not change the outcome."
"Murdaugh cannot argue that because others paid for the money he stole, he is entitled to a get out of jail free card," the Satterfield memo states. "Much to Murdaugh’s chagrin, he will have to wait until the jury speaks, evaluate the verdict (if any) that issues and then determine whether prior settlements were obtained on the same cause of action and whether he is entitled to an off-set for the amounts paid."
"The public is waiting and watching to see how South Carolina Courts will handle a once powerful and influential attorney," the memo adds. "Is there one system of justice for all or a two-tiered justice system that favors the wealthy and powerful?"
This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Alex Murdaugh update: Satterfield Estate responds to lawsuit motion