How much money could Alex Murdaugh's attorneys earn for double murder trial, appeal?
If approved by a circuit court judge, a new court filing reveals how much money convicted murderer Richard "Alex" Murdaugh will have to pay his attorneys − and how much less his many alleged financial victims will be getting as compensation down the road.
On March 21, Murdaugh's attorneys, Dick Harpootlian, Jim Griffin, Phil Barber and Margaret Fox, filed a motion for payment of attorney's fees and cost from "untainted funds" in Hampton County Court of Common Pleas. Murdaugh, convicted of the June 2021 killings of his wife, Maggie, and son Paul on March 2 and sentenced the next day to two consecutive life sentences, is now seeking to access some of his money to pay attorneys for representing him in the murder trial − and for his ongoing appeal filed March 9.
The motion is filed as part of a Receivership agreement in the wrongful death suit over the February 2019 death of Mallory Beach involving Murdaugh's son and his boat in Beaufort County waters. This civil suit is ongoing and expected to be heard in Hampton County Aug. 14.
This agreement, which seized and froze Murdaugh's money and assets, is a court-approved measure to ensure that Murdaugh's assets are preserved and there are possible damages available for Beach and other parties involved in the dozen lawsuits against Murdaugh, a disbarred lawyer implicated in a decade-long financial crime spree.
How much are Alex Murdaugh's attorneys charging for his murder defense?
Murdaugh's filing specifically requests the court's permission to transfer $160,000 from the Receiver’s escrow account − money which is currently available for victims if they are successful in court − to pay the convicted killer's legal fees in appealing his guilty verdict and sentence of life without parole. This $160K is for the appeals process and doesn't touch what Murdaugh owes for the murder trial itself, attorneys say.
According to the filing, the total fees Murdaugh owed for just the murder trial defense come to more than $700,000, plus thousands of dollars that attorneys say they pulled "out of pocket" for other expenses and haven't been reimbursed for - such as paying two paralegals, the office support staff working off-site supporting the defense team and other legal costs in preparing the case.
Murdaugh's filing states that four attorneys worked an estimated 60 hours a week (240 hours per week) for six weeks (14,400 hours). Using an average hourly rate of $500, the total fees for just the trial attorneys comes to $700,000.
However, Murdaugh's lawyers say that the attorneys' fees they have received so far are "grossly insufficient to cover the actual attorney’s fees incurred preparing for and defending Murdaugh during the six week trial."
In December of 2022, Judge Daniel Hall approved by court order a request from Murdaugh to liquidate his 401(k) retirement account with $600,000 of the funds to be used for his murder defense, and the balance of the retirement money, $424,941.24, to be deposited with the Receivers and used for the alleged victims.
Murdaugh's attorneys claim that the funds received from Murdaugh’s retirement account "have been exhausted" and they have been paying costs out of pocket − so now they want Judge Hall to allow them to dip into the $424,941 that is earmarked for victims.
Pain, lessons linger:Where does Hampton County, SC go after Alex Murdaugh verdict?
'Our bar is bruised':SC lawyers see Alex Murdaugh crime saga a stain on legal profession
Alex Murdaugh says he has legal right to pay counsel, but victims object
Murdaugh's latest filing contends that he has a Sixth Amendment constitutional right to retain the legal counsel of his choice using "legitimate, untainted assets." The motion contends the balance of his retirement funds are "innocent property," meaning that he didn't steal them from anyone, so he should be able to use them for legal fees.
However, at least two attorneys for multiple alleged Murdaugh victims have indicated they plan to fight this request in court.
Allendale attorney Mark Tinsley, who represents the Beach family and the Estate of Mallory Beach in the wrongful death suit, as well as other boat passengers who have filed personal injury suits against Murdaugh, said that he doesn't plan to file a written objection, but will instead orally argue against it in court. Judge Hall has not yet set a date to hear these arguments.
I don’t think there has been any change in circumstances from when they agreed to accept what they got from the 401k in exchange for us to allowing it to be cashed out without seizing it. They should have spent it better or not at all. We will see what the judge does.
— Mark Tinsley (@TheMarkTinsley) March 23, 2023
Tinsley called Murdaugh's request a "meritless position" and added that Murdaugh's attorneys already made a deal to use $600K of the retirement funds and spent those funds "unwisely." He argues that Murdaugh's lawyers should have known the murder trial was going to be longer than expected, and opined they spent too much money on expert witnesses that were ineffective or unnecessary.
"That's their fault," Tinsley said. "That's the deal they struck. I'm sorry they spent it unwisely."
Tinsley also voiced his opposition to the motion on Twitter.
Justin Bamberg, an attorney for several of Murdaugh's alleged financial victims, also voiced his plan to oppose this motion on Twitter and Facebook.
Michael DeWitt and the USA TODAY Network will continue to follow the ongoing criminal and civil cases surrounding the Murdaugh crime saga. Follow DeWitt on Twitter at @mmdewittjr and support his local and national journalism with a digital subscription.
This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Alex Murdaugh attorneys file motion for pay in murder trial, appeal