By Paul Gable
Attorneys representing the Dillon County Board of Education have involved themselves in the current primary campaign for the Democratic nomination for S.C. House District 55.
White and Story, LLC sent a letter to candidate and current Dillon County Council member Jack Scott requesting Scott remove some posts from “your social media site relating to your political campaign.”
The attorneys requested Scott remove posts allegedly containing “misleading communications” and “patently false information” and “cease and desist from making any other defamatory statements.”
The four-page letter goes on to address specific lines in various posts on Scott’s website with additional exhibits of the full posts included with the communication. (Click on the link below to view the letter and exhibits).
What is particularly interesting is the areas of emphasis, according to lawyer bios on the firm’s website, are: providing advice and counsel on issues relating to personnel matters, student discipline, the education of students with special needs, policy development, board/executive officer relations and tort issues.
The issues addressed in the letter, however, deal with free speech protections of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The letter appears to specifically take issue with core political speech, the form of speech elevated above all others in protections against its restriction, according to numerous U.S. Supreme Court decisions over the years.
The letter cherry picks sentences or phrases from larger texts to demonstrate what the attorneys allege are “misleading” or “patently false” statements. However, when viewed within the context of the larger posts in which they are contained, the statements objected to seem to be well within the general form of core political speech practiced by the vast majority of politicians today and quite tame compared to what spews forth from the White House on a weekly basis via Twitter.
While the attorneys appear to be attempting to establish a case of “malice aforethought” for a possible libel action if the posts are not removed after notice of these alleged offensive posts is received by Scott, that seems to be a pretty long legal stretch considering precedent established on core political speech by Supreme Court decisions.
Furthermore, the attorneys identify themselves as representing the Dillon County Board of Education in their letter while the alleged offensive posts relate to three persons, only one of whom is a member of the board. Another is the Superintendent of Dillon County Schools and the third is the incumbent representative for House District 55, as well as the football coach of Dillon High School and athletic director for both Dillon and Lake View high schools.
While the alleged offensive quotes may be a matter of litigation for the three individuals involved, they certainly do not appear to be a legal matter of concern to the board as a body.
This letter brings up more questions than it answers. Is the Dillon County Board of Education looking at this issue as a legal matter within the scope of board governance? If so, why and how?
If the matter is specific to the named individuals and not the board as a whole, why do the attorneys establish themselves as representing the Dillon County Board of Education and not the individuals?
Who is paying for the legal fees associated with the production of this letter? Are any public tax dollars being spent on this issue?
The attorneys offered to establish a meeting with Scott to address the concerns directly. This seems like a good idea, but it should not be one on one with Scott.
Since the posts involved and the questions they ask are part of a larger political debate, why not have an open public forum including all of the parties involved and the attorneys if they wish where these concerns can be addressed before the voters they apparently affect?
Click on the Dr. Scott link below to view the letter and accompanying exhibits: