Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Spread Of Murdaugh

The Georgia Supreme Court has imposed an interim suspension of an attorney based on a South Carolina sanction.

The court accepted his petition for a voluntary emergency suspension.

The Island Packet reported on the Palmetto State action

Beaufort lawyer Cory Fleming’s license to practice law was suspended by the S.C. Supreme Court on Friday following allegations that he helped Alex Murdaugh divert funds in a wrongful death settlement intended for the sons of Murdaugh’s housekeeper.

Fleming received an interim suspension by the high court, much like Murdaugh a month ago.

The suspension comes after a court filing on Tuesday, attached to a lawsuit filed Sept. 15, accused Fleming of assisting Murdaugh in routing to Murdaugh’s personal account more than $3.5 million in settlement money meant for the sons of Gloria Satterfield, the Murdaugh family housekeeper for 20 years.

Satterfield died in what was described as a trip-and-fall accident on the Murdaugh property in 2018. Her death is currently under criminal investigation by S.C. Law Enforcement Division.

According to the Satterfield lawsuit, Murdaugh suggested to the sons that they employ Fleming as their attorney so they could win a fair wrongful death settlement from him. They agreed, and later Fleming suggested that another associate, banker Chad Westendorf, take over as their representative. They agreed to that, too.

The lawsuit, brought by South Carolina lawyers Eric Bland and Ronald Richter Jr., alleges this is how the two sons — Tony Satterfield and Brian Harriott — were cut out of the process and left in the dark.

Thomas Pendarvis, Fleming’s attorney, did not immediately respond Friday afternoon to a request for comment.

The lawsuit states Fleming made separate wrongful death claims: one for $505,000, and one for $3.8 million.

Fleming and Westendorf met Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen, who approved both claims. Checks attached to a filing Tuesday in the lawsuit show that Fleming wrote the checks to “Forge,” a reference to an Atlanta-based firm, Forge Consulting LLC. The company helps clients structure settlements to stretch over time.

The lawsuit alleges that the checks didn’t go to Forge in Atlanta but instead to a P.O. Box in Hampton, as directed by Murdaugh.

More than $3.5 million was sent by Fleming via Murdaugh to “Forge,” according to the documents.

On Wednesday, Fleming apologized and placed all the blame on Murdaugh, his college roommate, for the alleged Satterfield scheme.

“When it came time to disburse the settlement funds, Mr. Fleming trusted his close friend and colleague to deal with him truthfully and honorably, only to be misled and deceived in one of the worst possible ways for a lawyer: Alex Murdaugh lied to Mr. Fleming to steal client funds,” the statement said.

Fleming, in two recent statements, has tried to distance himself from Murdaugh. The Satterfield lawsuit seeks his testimony, along with Murdaugh’s and Westendorf’s, to explain what happened and where the money went.

Fleming’s suspension is a placeholder while the the S.C. Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel, an arm of the Supreme Court, investigates. If the office determines the allegations are founded, it will forward its findings to the Commission on Lawyer Conduct.

The commission then determines whether misconduct took place and if so, recommends a sanction to the high court. The court will examine the commission’s findings and determine whether there is misconduct. If it finds misconduct, it decides sanctions.

None of the findings becomes public until the Supreme Court issues a public determination and sanction.

In a statement, Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter said it’s “a very good day for the South Carolina Bar.”

“The rule of law and the rules of professional conduct will always prevail over lawyer misconduct,” the statement said. “Fleming is entitled to due process and to defend the charges that the disciplinary counsel may bring against him.

“I am proud that (our) Supreme Court acted with swiftness and certainty in this matter.”

(Mike Frisch)


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