This week Eric Bland discusses Justice Toal’s statements during Alex Murdaugh’s motion for a new trial hearing Friday January 26th and introduces a new segment… The EB’s Legal Eagle where he’ll share definitions and examples of legal terms and situations we all might encounter one day.
TRANSCRIPT FROM OTTER.AI
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Today (Recorded January 26th) was an unusual morning. I’ve never quite participated in something like this. I’ve had situations in my career over 36 years where there were juror issues, some of those issues. Most of the time arise during the trial where you find that, you know, a juror did some extracurricular investigation outside the courtroom or some research that that juror tried to share with the other jurors never really had an issue, except one time where post court that an issue came up with a juror. And that was that the one of the jurors did not adequately set forth their employment history and the relationship that they had with one of the litigants, but this morning was really surreal, because one of my juror clients, and I was retained by that juror last Thursday, specifically because the juror had a vacation scheduled for this coming week, and was absolutely distraught that that juror was possibly going to miss their cruise because as you know, the motions hearing on Alex’s motion for a new trial was scheduled for Monday.
And so you know, I got this phone call from one of the jurors that I represent that said, could you give this person a call? I did. And you know, the juror was just absolutely beside themselves. So you know, I’m going to miss this vacation. I paid for scheduled to drive down Monday morning to Florida, and then we’re going to, you know, embark from there. And I said, Look, let me let me see what I could do. And I wrote Chief Justice toll on I think it was Thursday night or Thursday, and set forth just the truth, hey, look, this is, you know, a tremendous sacrifice that these jurors made. And now they’re being asked to come back into court under very stressful circumstances. And, you know, I hate it for this person to miss a week’s vacation that they already paid for. And boy, if justice told did not jump on it and came up with the solution that you know, we were going to have this juror testify alone today. And she marshaled all the forces all the core personnel in the courtroom and scheduled everything.
And, you know, this morning, I met the juror for the first time we drove we went up a private elevator so that the public couldn’t see this person. And the juror was rightfully anxious, because while the jurors photograph and video were not to be published, the jurors voice was, and you know, it’s one thing to sit in a jury box, but it’s a completely different kettle of fish to be sworn in and put in the witness stand. And they close you off in there with a little rope. And you know, and you have the former Chief Justice of our Supreme Court questioning you. But a lot of this had been pre planned by Justice Toal in terms of the questions that she was going to ask I can’t get into those questions, because there is a embargo is the word she used this morning against talking about the substantive those questions, but they were, you know, no more than five questions.
And obviously, they dealt with the verdict that was rendered on March 2, and some issues that may have come up, if any with Becky Hill. And it was very straightforward. The defense was not happy, because they wanted more questions to be asked. And they would have preferred obviously, that they asked the questions and not just as tall, but she was not going to let a juror be cross examined by lawyers. That’s not something that you was going to do. And she’s falling the Greene case, as we talked about, which is a 2021, South Carolina Supreme Court case, which says that not only do you have to show that there was this external influence by what Becky may have said or done, but that impacted in prejudice the verdict, which is a pretty high standard, yesterday, Harpootlian lodged his objections to the entire procedure of what Justice tow put in place, and that was filed a public record.
And this morning, you could tell he was very frustrated, as was Alex Murtaugh who came in was an interesting I was sitting in the jury box in the last seat when the door open, he came in and we locked eyes and it was surreal to to make eye contact with him. He looked down immediately. You know, I didn’t have anything to say to him. If I had something to say it wouldn’t have been nice. So I didn’t want to do that. And, you know, we went and got our juror the jury came in, swore to tell the truth and the questioning, surprisingly to everybody was less than five minutes.
There was an issue about you know what that you’re heard on the day, Alex, you know, was going to testify or what that your didn’t hear. But that was it. And the hearing was over? I think there was an incident that Justice Toal told everybody that one you could take notes, but you can’t tweet during the hearing. You can’t do anything that would disclose the nature of the questions that you would ask. And it turned out, they weren’t hearing that one of the local journalists, so to speak, texted out or tweeted out that I was representing this juror and named some things that would identify who that juror was, which really made Jay Bender who is in charge of dealing with the media pretty upset and made me live it. And my understanding is that Justice Toal was going to deal with that local news agency, because she was very clear on what she said, and she is insistent on keeping the anonymity of these jurors, she referred to the juror this morning as juror X.
And, you know, I expect that this is going to be an orderly process on Monday with the other 11 jurors, there is a juror I think that is kind of like a free agent unknown. No one’s really spoken to that juror. So we don’t know what the jurors answers are going to be, or suspect what they could be. And the real fireworks I think is going to begin when Becky testifies. And that could happen on Monday afternoon, and this could all be over on Monday. It’s gonna be interesting. See whether Becky Hill takes the Fifth Amendment, I do believe that Justice Toal is going to let both the state and the defense question Becky Hill, it’s going to be an issue on how much and how broad the cross examination that she’s going to let get into she seems to be adamant that she doesn’t want to get into anything that postdates the date of the verdict March 2, because that really has nothing to do with the issue of did anything she did up to that point in time prejudice, the verdict?
That’s the question did anything that Becky said or did between the start of the trial and the rendition of the verdict have anything to do with the verdict that was given which was guilty on both counts of murdering Maggie and Paul. So I expect that as the jurors come in and testify on Monday, there’ll be four of mine, that, you know, it’ll be the same five minutes, six minutes, I suspect that Harpootlian is going to get more frustrated as the morning goes on. And again, the real interest is going to be Becky Hill in what she says what she doesn’t say, and how far of a latitude justice toll is going to give. I wouldn’t be surprised if Justice Toal renders her decision.
At the conclusion of the hearing next week, Harpootlian has already indicated even again this morning that if the outcome is unsatisfactory, there’s definitely going to be an appeal justice told made it very clear that everything that Harpootlian is objected to has been preserved, nothing’s been waived. So if by chance, Justice Toal rules against the motion for a new trial, you can expect that this will go up through the appellate court system through our state court, and then possibly into the federal courts.
So you know, if there’s a new trial, that new trial probably won’t happen until next fall, if not the following fall, I don’t know if everybody would be able to get ready by next fall again, for a new Murdaugh trial. But the appeals if she denies the new trial will last for a long time. So it was a very interesting process to watch.
There was a lot of media there, there wasn’t as many people as I thought, but tune in on Monday. And I think it’ll be pretty interesting. We’re gonna have a Cup of Justice episode after Monday’s hearing so that we can get all everything in that we want to talk about after seeing how the hearing unfolds on Monday.
And so with that, we’re going to go to we’re going to call Legal Eagle. And we’re going to define and talk about a couple legal terms. You know, there’s terms that you hear that lawyers talk about every day, and we act like we know, as laypeople what those terms are, and we really don’t.
So the first term we’re going to talk about is called PRO HAC VICE, Latin term. And that means essentially, somebody’s going to practice in a court where they’re not licensed to practice law. The first one would be an example if I went to North Carolina, and I am not licensed to practice law in North Carolina, but I have a North Carolina case, I can get a local North Carolina lawyer who will sponsor me PRO HAC VICE, that lawyer will go before court make an application to sponsor my limited admission to practice in that court. In that case, it’s a case by case basis, and usually under what’s known as comedy C O M I T E why courts from different states do grant those privileges routinely.
Now, I’ve been admitted PRO HAC VICE in North Carolina. I’m not a North Carolina license lawyer. I’m licensed in South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Florida, probably seven times and the last time that I was admitted. One of the judges who granted my admission, said Mr. Bland, I’ve noticed now this is the seventh time that you’ve applied for pro hack vitae admission, because on each application time, you have to put the other cases that you were admitted in. And that judge said to me, Mr. Bland, this is the last time that you’re going to be admitted, you need to sit and take the bar.
And so what PRO HAC VICE does is it permits somebody who’s not licensed and have jurisdiction to get a sponsor and be able to practice in that jurisdiction.
The second term in Legal Eagle is PROBATE. And we’ve probably heard that term before probate court as opposed to General Sessions Court, which houses civil and criminal cases in here. Probate Court and family courts are different court systems within our entire court system and the probate court system and we have probate judges. In fact, Joe McCall who’s involved in the Murdaugh matters. You’ve heard his name. He’s got the white Ernest Hollings hair. His wife, Amy McCullough has been a longtime probate judge in the Fifth Judicial Circuit in the same courthouse.
We were in this morning and Columbia and when somebody dies, if they have a will, they have to probate that will which means take that will to the probate court, register the will and then somebody gets appointed what’s known as the personal representative of that person’s estate. And a personal representative is the person who liquidates assets, reads the will and distributes what the will says is going to be distributed to whom and to what what’s going to be distributed and pays off creditors pays off the funeral home deals with possible medical bills and other financial obligations. And that’s called a personal representative and probate. Well, that’s when somebody has a will.
If somebody doesn’t have a will, they die what’s called intestate, and that means they died without a will. And you still have to open an estate in probate court, even if you die without a will. Because if there’s going to be a lawsuit, let’s say somebody’s in a car and they get killed, and they didn’t have a will, if it’s a 23 year old college kid, there’s going to be a personal representative appointed, and then you have to register and open it in a state for that person. And then you can bring the lawsuit, the personal representative can bring it in the name of the person that died. And so let’s say if I’m personal representative for John Jones, it would say Eric bland as personal representative for John Jones.
So if you die without a will, and it’s called intestate, and you do have a lot of assets, the law divides those assets 50% to your spouse, if you have children, they get the other 50% divided amongst them. And if you don’t have any children and just the spouse, your spouse would get 100% If you don’t have a spouse, and you have children, your children would get 100% If you don’t have children, then it’s divided upwards to your parents and then through your siblings.
And so it’s an orderly process, that the law has provisions for people’s assets to be distributed if they don’t have a will. And you’d be surprised how many people don’t have a will you know, you don’t think about it. So those are the terms this week. They are the P’s PRO HAC VICE and Probate and next week we’ll talk about two more terms in legal Eagle corner and with that said EB Out!
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