76 ethics allegations say ex-Clerk of Court Becky Hill abused post for own gain

The S.C. Ethics Commission said Wednesday it has found probable cause in 76 different incidents to believe that former Colleton County Clerk of Court Becky Hill repeatedly misused her position to enrich herself and promote a book she wrote on the Alex Murdaugh murder trial.

Hill, who resigned her post in March, received national publicity for being the clerk of court at convicted killer and former lawyer Murdaugh’s six-week trial in the winter of 2023 and writing a quickie book — “Behind the Doors of Justice” — about her insider experiences as a court official at the trial.

The book was withdrawn from publication several months ago after she admitted plagiarizing material from a BBC reporter who wrote an in-depth story about the case.

Hill also directed hundreds if not thousands of dollars to go for things like “candy, tea and lemonade” for office parties such as “Lori’s 50th Birthday” and “brunch snacks” for her staff, one complaint said. Other public money went for alcoholic drinks, dog food, dog bones and a dog bed. Hill also bought two picnic tables for $600, a complaint said.

The allegations made against Hill were made in formal complaints released by the S.C. Ethics Commission pursuant to a Freedom of Information request by The State Media Co.

They are the latest stunning twist in the five-year saga of the Murdaugh dynasty, a saga that has included Murdaugh’s two murder convictions, a boat crash death, thefts of millions of dollars and the convictions of Murdaugh’s two accomplices in crime, disbarred lawyer Corey Fleming and ex-banker Russell Laffitte.

The commission said the allegations against Hill will be aired publicly at a hearing at the State Ethics Commission in Columbia on Dec. 19. Commission hearings are like mini trials, with opening and closing statements and the introduction of evidence and witnesses. No public explanation was given for the six-month wait until the hearing, but the Ethics Commission maintains a crowded docket and December was likely the first opening in the agency’s calendar for a hearing.

Some charges allege she used IV-D funds, federal child support money, for some personal expenses.

Hill’s attorney, Will Lewis of Columbia, declined comment. Another attorney who has represented her, Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, could not be reached.

Numerous ethics allegations against Hill made public Wednesday charge that she abused her position as clerk of court to promote sales of her book and lavish favors upon others.

The allegations included:

Spending $543 on a going away lunch for a unidentified member of the solicitor’s office — expenses included alcoholic drinks (Jagermeister and Limoncello), meals and appetizers.

Giving a photograph to an unnamed individual of an inmate in a holding cell at the Colleton County courthouse. The inmate was not named, but it may have been Murdaugh. Hill gave the photograph to promote sales of her book.

Using her position to direct a $2,000 bonus to herself in September 2021.

Using her position to direct a $2,500 bonus to herself in September 2022.

Using her position to direct a $2,500 bonus to herself in March 2023.

Using her position to negotiate the use of the Colleton County courthouse — apparently with a media company — in exchange for the promotion of her book.

Using her position to direct payments of hundreds of dollars in county funds to a company with which she had a business relationship, Community Innovations.

Using her position to buy hundreds of dollars worth of office decorations and presents for employees for birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day.

Using her position to buy hundreds of dollars worth of meals and gifts for other occasions for courthouse and judicial staffs.

Last year following the Murdaugh murder trial, his lawyers charged that Hill had tampered with the jury that found Murdaugh guilty to try to get a quick verdict that would juice her book sales. But early this year, a state judge ruled that nothing Hill had done had influenced the jury’s actions.

Murdaugh is currently serving two consecutive life sentences in state prison for killing his wife, Maggie, and son Paul in a shooting at their rural Colleton County estate in 2021. His lawyers are appealing.

During the Murdaugh trial, Hill was a popular public official, known for her genial help to the many members of the news media. the public and officials alike. Attorney General Alan Wilson called her “Becky Boo,” and she was more widely known as “Miss Becky.” She was elected to the clerk of court’s position in November 2020.

Hill was a middle school teacher before becoming a court reporter, a job that put her in the middle of the Lowcountry’s well-heeled lawyer class who gave her the donations needed for her 2020 bid to be clerk of court. She ran as a Republican, winning with 56% of the vote, or nearly 11,000 ballots cast, according to a profile of Hill in The State earlier this year.

The complaints against Hill were made by two individuals: Arthur L. Simmons III of Beaufort and Laura Hayes, a former Colleton County deputy clerk of court. Simmons declined comment. Hayes could not be reached.