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from Judge in Alex Murdaugh murder trial has Cleveland roots

Posted March 6, 2023
6:48 pm


CLEVELAND, Ohio – He made headlines for presiding over the televised trial of disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh, whom he sentenced last week to life in prison without parole. But before Judge Clifton Newman earned a seat on the South Carolina Circuit Court bench, he roamed the academic halls of Cleveland State University and its College of Law.

Newman, whose soft-spoken, measured voice became recognizable for anyone glued to the Murdaugh saga, grew up in South Carolina but chose Cleveland as a place for higher education. He earned a bachelor’s degree with a political science major in 1973, and a juris doctor in 1976, a university spokesman confirmed.

Following law school, Newman kicked off his legal career in Cleveland, co-launching his own practice and serving as a civil practitioner and defense lawyer.

He still has admirers in Cleveland.

“Honest to God, what you saw on TV is who he is; he’s decisive, he’s firm, he’s caring, he’s got compassion,” said Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Administrative and Presiding Judge Brendan Sheehan.

Newman and Sheehan didn’t meet in Cleveland, but a decade ago at the University of Reno, Nevada, while enrolled in a judicial studies program. When Sheehan heard about Newman’s Northeast Ohio roots, he introduced himself and they became friends.

Newman always spoke fondly of his time in Cleveland, Sheehan recalled. “He’d always say, ‘I’m from Cleveland.’ I’d laugh and say, ‘What made you leave?’ "

As a Cleveland State undergraduate, Newman served as president of the student government and joined the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, the Greenville News reported.

During law school, he interned with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, representing consumers who couldn’t afford attorneys. “I would often find myself fighting an uphill battle in trying to provide some relief for a person who was unable to pay their bills and was being sued as a result of it, and trying to find creative defenses and applying some of the laws that might provide some protection to them,” he said in an Interview with Business Law Today.

After six years in his Cleveland practice, he returned home to South Carolina in 1982, partly because he didn’t want his children participating in a busing program to integrate schools that was being forced by a federal court—an experiment that made him feel like a pawn—he told the Post and Courier.

Newman was elected to the Circuit Court bench in 2000. Before he was chosen to oversee the Murdaugh trial, he presided over other high-profile trials, including the 2016 case of Michael Slager, a white police officer who fatally shot Walter Scott, an unarmed Black man, in the back as he fled.

Last week, Murdaugh was found guilty of murdering his wife, Maggie, and a son, Paul, on the family estate in 2021. As he issued his sentence, Newman, in a stirring rebuke, said, “I know you have to see Paul and Maggie during the nighttime when you’re attempting to go to sleep … and reflect on the last time they looked you in the eyes.”

Prior to that speech, Newman kept a noticeably low profile, an approach that Judge Sheehan considers a mark of a fair jurist.

“A good judge is never the center of any trial, and from my observation he never made himself center of the trial,” Sheehan said. “He performed that way to the end.”

Source: - Judge in Alex Murdaugh murder trial has Cleveland roots


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