Clerk over Alex Murdaugh trial spent thousands on bonuses, meals and gifts, ethics complaint says


COLUMBIA (AP) — South Carolina officials have filed 76 counts of ethics violations against the court clerk who handled the Alex Murdaugh murder trial.
The 25 pages of allegations accuse former Colleton County Clerk of Court Becky Hill of allowing a photo of Murdaugh in a holding cell to be taken to promote her book on the trial, giving herself bonuses, and using county money to buy dozens of lunches for her staff, prosecutors and a vendor.
Hill also struck a deal with a documentary maker to use the county courtroom in exchange for promoting her book on the trial, which later she admitted had plagiarized passages, according to the South Carolina Ethics Commission complaint earlier this month.
The commission will hold a hearing similar to a trial in December on the accusations unless Hill and her lawyer settle the case before then. Hill could have to reimburse the expenses and face thousands of dollars or more in fines. And if the commission thinks she broke any laws, they can forward the information to prosecutors.
A criminal investigation into whether Hill tampered with the Murdaugh jury or misused her office continues, the State Law Enforcement Division said Thursday.
Hill resigned in March during the last year of her four year term, citing the public scrutiny of Murdaugh's trial and wanting to spend time with her grandchildren. She hasn't publicly addressed the ethics allegations and her lawyer didn't return a message Thursday.
Murdaugh was convicted of killing his wife and younger son after a six-week trial in Colleton County last year. The case involved power, danger, money and privilege and an attorney whose family lorded over his small South Carolina county for nearly a century.
Murdaugh is appealing his conviction and life without parole sentence in part accusing Hill of trying to influence jurors to vote guilty and being biased against Murdaugh for her book. Murdaugh is also serving decades in prison for admitting to stealing millions of dollars from settlements for clients who suffered horrible injuries or deaths and from his family's law firm.
An initial appeal was denied, but the judge said she wasn't sure Hill told the truth about her dealings with jurors and was "attracted by the siren call of celebrity."
The ethics allegations against Hill say she bought lunches for prosecutors and then paid herself back with county money. One count said she spent $543.89 for food and alcohol for a going away lunch for an employee in a local prosecutor's office.
None of the allegations mention spending for public defenders or defense attorneys.
Hill gave herself nearly $10,000 in bonuses from federal money that is meant to improve child support collection but has few rules on how it is spent, according to the complaint.
The former clerk used public money to buy meals for her staff, her family, judges, court employees and others 36 times. She reimbursed herself for gifts bought for jurors and her staff on Valentine's Day and for her employees on Mother's Day, Father's Day and Easter, the complaint said.
Expenses included $481 for a 50th birthday party for a staffer and dog food, bones and a pet bed for another, ethics officials said.
In all, Hill is accused of spending nearly $20,000 in county money in ways she shouldn't, according to the complaint.