Spartanburg attorney William B. Darwin Jr. filed a suit Thursday afternoon on behalf of Carlisle Oxner III in the Union County Clerk of Court’s Office. The suit states that the operators, registrants and content providers for www.timefortruthinunionsc.com — a website hosted by GoDaddy.com, Inc. — and firstname.lastname@example.org — an electronic mail address hosted by Yahoo! Inc. — defamed and libeled Oxner by claiming he received “certain property for free from an attorney for the City of Union, implying illegality and unethical behavior and stating that the property transaction smelled ‘fowl.’”
The suit says that these statements are false and had a “defamatory meaning” concerning Oxner and “were published with negligence or, in the alternative, with actual or implied malice.” The suit says the defendants published these remarks “for the purpose of bringing shame and humiliation to Mr. Oxner.”
It also states that the defendants invaded Oxner’s privacy “by exposing details of a personal transaction that is of no legitimate public concern” and that their actions “have exposed the intimate details of Mr. Oxner’s life in a way that no decent member of society expects or should be forced to tolerate.”
As a result of the “defamatory and libelous electronic mail messages and website postings,” the suit alleges Oxner has suffered “reputational harm, hurt feelings, mental anguish, emotional distress and loss of privacy.” They have also “interfered with Mr. Oxner’s ability to continue to be an active member of Union County society.
The suit asks that the court award Oxner actual and punitive damages; a permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from publishing defamatory and libelous statements about him; legal costs; and any other relief the court deems appropriate.
Oxner said Friday that he was unable to comment about the suit.
Since it began operating, www.timefortruthinunionsc.com has served as a forum for anonymous comments and opinions about local politicians and government policies. Though the comments vary from posting to posting, they are generally negative, a number of them alleging corruption on the part of government officials.
The suit does not name the defendants, listing them as “John Doe(s).” The identities of the operators of the site and those who contribute to it is unknown, leading to public speculation as to who they are.
One name linked to “timefortruth” is David Fant, who admitted that he has submitted some postings to the website but that is the extent of his involvement. He said his postings are the same as the letters he’s submitted to The Union Daily Times for publication. Fant said that he cannot remember whether or not he has ever written anything about Oxner. He said he also cannot remember seeing anything on the website about Oxner.
Bill Rogers, executive director for the S.C. Press Association, said that while there have been a number of suits filed against web sites nationwide, he is not aware of one being filed in South Carolina. Rogers said that while the First Amendment is no shield against libel, there is federal law that protects Internet providers from being sued for what others post.
“It’s just like a newspaper, if they are producing the content they are liable,” Rogers said. “If they are just posting the unedited comments of others they have some protection. That’s the problem with blogs — you never know who really publishes what and they’re credibility is very low.”