Dog Beds, Gifts, and Brunch: Inside the Ethics Investigation into Murdaugh Court Clerk

Joshua Boucher/The State/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Joshua Boucher/The State/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

A court clerk once accused of tampering with the South Carolina jury that convicted Alex Murdaugh is now facing over six dozen ethics violations after allegedly misusing her elected position to promote her book on the trial and financial gain.

The South Carolina Ethics Commission confirmed Wednesday it found probable cause for 76 counts of misconduct against former Colleton County Clerk of Court Becky Hill, which will be discussed at a formal December hearing. The counts allege she used her post to enrich herself and a company she was associated with, and disclose confidential information for personal benefit.

The allegations—which were made in at least two formal complaints last year and the formal hearing notices obtained by The Daily Beast—accuse Hill of a host of misdeeds including allowing guided tours of the courthouse for “donations,” authorizing photos in the holding cell that Murdaugh occupied during the trial, filming a promotional segment for her book inside her office, and reimbursing herself for presents she bought court employees.

One notice of hearing alleges Hill directed thousands to her directly to reimburse for “candy, tea, and lemonade for ‘Lori’s 50th birthday.’ Another time, she allegedly paid herself back for “brunch snacks” for her court staff—and a third time for “Father’s Day for guys” employee gifts. Other public money allegedly went to pay her back for dog food, dog bones, and a dog bed.

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“During the Murdaugh trial, Hill used her political position and authority to obtain confidential information and digital images of the defendant and others during the trial,” one citizen’s June 2023 ethics complaint alleges. “At the conclusion of the trial, Hill was interviewed by members of Netflix and was responsible for releasing unredacted body camera footage.”

The ethics case is the latest legal escalation against Hill, who resigned in March amid her first term. The resignation came five months after Murdaugh’s lawyers first accused her of influencing the 12-person jury that convicted Murdaugh in February 2021. He is now facing a life sentence for the murder of his son and wife.

The accusations made in a defense team bid for a new trial spurred two separate state probes—and the sale of her book about the trial, Behind Doors of Justice, was halted after she admitted she plagiarized. It also spurred a January evidentiary hearing, where former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal denied the bid for a new trial but admonished Hill for being lured by the “siren call of celebrity.”

“She wanted to write a book about the trial and expressed that as early as November 2022, long before the trial began,” Toal said in the January hearing.

The notice of hearings and the ethics complaints, however, paint a more jarring and widespread picture of Hill’s tenure during the Murdaugh trial. The June 2023 complaint from a citizen also details how Hill used her authority, the courthouse, and taxpayer money unethically when the trial began in January 2023.

“Through interviews with various media sources, Hill admits she planned to write a book as soon as she discovered Murdaugh would be adjudicated in Colleton County,” the complaint alleges. “Hill also used her position to make contacts prior to trial that could assist her in this endeavor. These admissions can be discovered in local news sources and social media posts.”

The complaint also accuses Hill of using her position to promote her book to local outlets and allow at least one citizen to have “unimpeded access” to the courthouse.

“It is also known a male tourist wrote a check to Colleton County in the amount of $100.00 as a donation for a tour. Hill later ordered a staff member to alter the check by striking through Colleton County and adding her name to the check,” it alleges. ‘Hill then deposited the check into her personal bank account. The denotations are unaccounted for as there are no receipts being issued and it is unknown what financial institution and account the donations are being held in.”

A month later, another citizen filed an ethics complaint against Hill. The July citizen complaint alleges that Hill may have accepted gifts from media outlets, that the press held a party in her honor during the trial, and that she attended another reporter gathering where “her daughter sang and entertained them.”

Hill’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office declined to comment.

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