Unsealing court records of Mulvaney’s shady South Carolina land deal

Public Citizen's work led the Supreme Court of South Carolina to issue an order to unseal the record in this case

  • $6 million Amount in loans involved in a disputed real estate deal involving Mulvaney
  • $2.5 million Amount allegedly owed by a company co-owned by Mulvaney
  • 14.8 Approximate acreage of the land in the deal

In April 2007, a company in which Mick Mulvaney held quarter ownership purchased a property in South Carolina, where he was a state representative. On April 25, 2007, a local real estate firm made a $1.4 million loan to Mulvaney’s company, which also borrowed $3.7 million in September 2008 from a North Carolina-based bank to develop the new property.

By October 2016, the project fell apart as Mulvaney’s company neared default in its loan payments. At that point, Indian Land Ventures, a new company in which Mulvaney was a manager, sought to purchase the second mortgage held by the North Carolina-based bank.

This purchase paid off the remaining balance of that loan yet sparked a dispute with the junior lender, who alleged that Mulvaney sought to foreclose upon the property through a new company to avoid paying his debts.

Nevertheless, in November 2019, the South Carolina court allowed Mulvaney’s new company to foreclose upon the property, even as the debt to the junior lender remained unpaid.

By that time, Mulvaney was acting chief of staff to President Donald Trump. Both parties sought to seal the court record, including evidence and documents that contained Mulvaney’s deposition transcript. For unspecified reasons, both parties agreed that the record should remain secret, giving no explanation as to why a partial sealing would not sufficiently protect any genuine secrets. Furthermore, the parties’ joint request offered no evidence that case materials contained trade secrets or sensitive information.

On Feb. 21, 2020, Public Citizen and Georgetown Law Professor Adam Levitin filed a motion to unseal the record. Public Citizen and Levitin argued that the parties failed to make a showing sufficient to overcome the public’s right to access court records and proceedings, guaranteed under the First Amendment and the Constitution of South Carolina.

These efforts led the Supreme Court of South Carolina to issue an order to unseal the record in this case on March 2, 2020.

Courts always must balance the right of public access to court records with the need for some parties to protect truly private or proprietary information. But this case turned the right of South Carolina citizens to access public court records on its ear. There was no legitimate reason to keep these court records should be hidden from the public eye. Paul Alan Levy, attorney for Public Citizen

Highlights

  • In 2007, a company partially owned by Mick Mulvaney purchased a property for development in South Carolina.

    The development project ran into money troubles and a dispute among financers ended up in court.

    In November 2019, a judge agreed to seal the court records, which detailed the involvement of Mulvaney, then a top White House official.

    Public Citizen intervened to have the court records unsealed, arguing successfully that they should be in the public domain.