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Lawyer admits insurance fraud and theft from clients



On September 7, 2021, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) requested that the court suspend defendant Richard Alexander Murdaugh on temporary suspension based on information indicating that defendant had stolen money from the law firm that employed him. The defendant agreed to the relief and on September 8, 2021, the Supreme Court issued a decision to suspend the defendant from legal practice. In re Murdaugh, 434 SC 233, 863 SE2d 335 (2021) and, inIn the matter of Richard Alexander MurdaughThe Supreme Court of South Carolina, June 16, 2022, faced the Supreme Court’s obligation to render a final decision on Murdaugh’s license to practice law.

FACTS

On September 16, 2021, defendant Murdaugh was arrested and charged with attempted insurance fraud and filing a false police report. The false report was related to an attempted assisted suicide which the defendant reported as an attempted murder because he believed that his life insurance policy included an enforceable suicide exclusion.

The defendant appeared at bond interrogation and admitted through a lawyer in court that he had in fact created the events that supported the arrest. On November 22, 2021, the defendant filed an emergency request for a gag Order in Satterfield vs. Murdaugh, Case No. 2021-CP-25-00298, in which the defendant admitted misconduct related to the theft of money from the law firm that employed him.

Over the course of several months, Murdaugh was indicted and charged with over seventy counts of burglary involving the theft of money from various clients, including the Satterfield plaintiffs. On May 27, 2022, he signed a confession of $ 4,305,000.00, acknowledging liability for the theft of conciliation funds in Satterfield case where the defendant was the named defendant.

ANALYSIS

The South Carolina Constitution requires the Supreme Court to regulate the practice of law in South Carolina. The jurisdiction of this court to discipline lawyers for professional misconduct is exclusive. This constitutional obligation includes the obligation and the power to remove inappropriate persons from the legal profession for the protection of the public and the administration of justice, and to do so by suspension.

Disciplinary matters question whether a lawyer is no longer worthy to wear the court’s imprimatur and continue to practice law.

Disciplinary proceedings usually follow an inquiry, appeal, limited disclosure and a questionable hearing before the Commission on the Advocacy. The Commission then submits a report to this Court with factual results, legal conclusions and recommendations for disposal.

Since Murdaugh acknowledged his conduct, it would be superfluous to testify about his conduct, which means clear and convincing evidence of dishonesty in violation of the rules of professional conduct. His behavior involved dishonesty, fraud, deception or misrepresentation. The Supreme Court concluded that the defendant is bound by the concessions contained in the documents he submitted in Satterfield case.

The defendant is also bound by the statements made by his representative at the interrogations where the representative admitted. The defendant staged a suicide attempt to appear as a murder to deceive the life insurance company and then filed a false police report about this.

Based on these confessions, there is no factual dispute as to whether the defendant engaged in dishonest conduct. The defendant’s admission in the criminal proceedings that he had engaged in conduct which violated the rules of professional conduct satisfies the disciplinary counsel’s burden of proving the same misconduct in the course of the ongoing disciplinary proceedings. As a result, it was obvious to the Supreme Court that an evidentiary hearing is unnecessary to dispose of the ongoing discipline, as the only remaining issue to be decided is the legal issue of determining the appropriate sanction, a matter which is left to the Supreme Council’s assessment. court under the Constitution.

In this unique case, the defendant’s confessions in the public register only lead to a conclusion – that the defendant’s gross ethical offense exposes him to the most significant penalty available – suspension. Consequently, there is no need to spend additional resources to go through the normal disciplinary process. Instead, the Supreme Court concluded that it can act under the court’s constitutional authority to regulate the legal profession in South Carolina and can remove an inappropriate lawyer from the legal profession to ensure that the public and the administration of justice are protected. Therefore, the Supreme Court waived further proceedings before the Commission and ordered that Murdaugh appear in the Supreme Court at 11:00 on 22 June 2022 to present legal arguments on the question of whether this court should exclude the defendant from the practice of the law.

The Supreme Court was technically obliged to allow Murdaugh to appear and explain why he believes he should not be excluded. I hope he does not increase his rude and unethical behavior by standing up and that the Supreme Court immediately dismisses him.


(c) 2022 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.

Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his internship to the position of insurance consultant specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as a lawyer for insurance coverage and claims management and more than 54 years in the insurance industry. He is available at http://www.zalma.com and zalma@zalma.com.

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