The Supreme Court of South Carolina
In the Matter of Richard Alexander Murdaugh, Respondent.Appellate Case No. 2022-000812
We suspended Respondent Richard Alexander Murdaugh from the practice of law on September 8, 2021. In re Murdaugh, 434 S.C. 233, 863 S.E.2d 335 (2021). In the intervening months, Respondent has been indicted on more than eighty criminal charges arising from various ongoing investigations. Additionally, Respondent has admitted in various court proceedings and filings that he engaged in financial misconduct involving theft of money from his former law firm; that he solicited his own murder to defraud his life insurance carrier; and that he is liable for the theft of $4,305,000 in settlement funds.1 Based on these admissions, we issued an order directing Respondent to personally appear before this Court on June 22, 2022, to present legal argument on the question of whether he should be disbarred from the practice of law. We subsequently canceled that hearing after Respondent filed an affidavit waiving all rights to a hearing and stating he did not contest the Court's "authority and decision" to disbar him from the practice of law. In doing so, we noted a formal decision as to disbarment would follow.
Disbarment is among the most serious sanctions this Court can impose for unethical conduct committed by members of the legal profession. The purpose of disbarring an attorney "is to remove from the profession a person whose misconduct has proved him unfit to be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities belonging to the office of an attorney, and thus to protect the public and those charged with the administration of justice." In re Kennedy, 254 S.C. 463, 465, 176 S.E.2d 125, 126 (1970).
Respondent concedes that disbarment is warranted in light of his admitted professional misconduct. However, our decision today turns not on Respondent's concession, but rather derives from our constitutional authority and duty to protect the public from attorneys who are not fit to practice law. See In re Barker, 352 S.C. 71, 74, 572 S.E.2d 460, 462 (2002) ("The authority to discipline attorneys and the manner in which discipline is given rests entirely with this Court."). Indeed, we take this step today based on our ability to conclude from the public record that Respondent's untruthfulness and misconduct resulted in significant harm to clients and demands his removal from the practice of law.
Based on his admitted reprehensible misconduct, we hereby disbar Respondent Richard Alexander Murdaugh from the practice of law in South Carolina. In removing Respondent from the legal profession, we note his misconduct remains under investigation by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC), and our decision today in no way concludes, limits, restricts, or otherwise impacts the ongoing ODC investigation, which we trust will continue without undue delay. For purposes of transparency and accountability, if additional acts of misconduct by Respondent are discovered in the ODC investigation, we will issue supplemental order(s) detailing any such additional acts of misconduct and imposing additional sanctions where appropriate.2 See In re Welch, 355 S.C. 93, 96, 584 S.E.2d 369, 371 (2003) (imposing additional sanctions four years after indefinitely suspending attorney and explaining that a criminal conviction provides a separate basis for an additional sanction notwithstanding the imposition of a prior sanction involving the same underlying conduct where the criminal proceeding results in information the Court did not consider in imposing the prior sanction).
Columbia, South Carolina
July 12, 2022
1 As outlined in our June 16, 2022 order, the public record contains Respondent's admissions of unethical conduct in the context of his myriad criminal charges.
2 Particularly, we emphasize this Court may issue supplemental orders on issues such as costs and restitution, especially if full restitution is not awarded in other proceedings. See In re Moody, 429 S.C. 627, 541 S.E.2d 627 (2020) (finding restitution was an appropriate additional sanction for conduct that occurred prior to the lawyer's disbarment in 2014); see also Rule 7(b), RLDE, Rule 413, SCACR (setting forth various sanctions including restitution, disgorgement, reimbursement to Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection, assessment of costs, assessment of a fine, and "any other sanction or requirement as the Supreme Court may determine is appropriate").