SC judge poised to dismiss former LR5 school board member's lawsuit over Facebook group




  • In Business
  • 2022-12-02 18:45:54Z
  • By The State
 

A South Carolina judge indicated Friday she's prepared to dismiss a now-former Midlands school board member's lawsuit against a constituent who ran a Facebook group critical of the board.

Judge Jean Toal did not issue a formal order after a hearing Friday, but said from the bench that a lawsuit brought by former Lexington-Richland 5 school board member Ken Loveless would not be able to overcome federal law and Supreme Court precedent moving forward.

Loveless sued district parent Leslie Stiles in March over comments made in her Facebook group Deep Dive Into D5. The lawsuit ultimately led to a page that was often critical of the Chapin-Irmo area school board being shut down.

Loveless sued Stiles both over critical comments she made on the Facebook page, and for allowing others to post comments critical of Loveless including calling him "Crooked Ken" and "a loser."

But Toal agreed with defense attorney Chris Kenney that action against Stiles for others' comments on the page is barred by the federal Communications Decency Act, which prohibits the operator of a website from being liable for public comments posted by others to the site.

Further, Toal said Loveless attorney Desa Ballard failed to establish "actual malice" against Loveless in the comments. That's the high standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of New York Times v. Sullivan for a public official such as Loveless, an elected school board member, to take action for defamation.

Toal, a former chief justice of the S.C. Supreme Court, did not issue a formal order Friday at the Richland County Judicial Center, but invited Kenney to draft a formal order within two weeks. Ballard would then have a week to respond to Kenney's draft, Toal said. Kenney confirmed after Friday's hearing he would draft an order to dismiss based on the judge's reasoning.

Toal did not rule Friday on a separate defamation case Loveless brought against school district constituent Kevin Scully for authoring several of the allegedly defamatory posts, including saying that "Crooked Ken is an unethical hypocrite and a liar." But Loveless' suit in that case would have to meet the same "actual malice" standard that Toal said would doom his lawsuit against Stiles.

Loveless last month lost his re-election bid to the school board by just 16 votes, while Scully won election to a different seat on the school board for the first time.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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