Judge: Pro­tester’s ac­tions not pro­tected un­der law

The Beaufort Gazette (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY WADE LIV­INGSTON wliv­[email protected]­land­packet.com

A Jasper County judge has or­dered a stop to a Ge­or­gia man’s year-plus, road­side protest of a Hardeeville car deal­er­ship, one he con­ducted us­ing home­made signs con­tain­ing lan­guage the court deemed defam­a­tory.

Ac­cord­ing to court records, 14th Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit Judge Car­men T. Mullen granted a par­tial sum­mary judg­ment on Nov. 13 in fa­vor of First Team Hyundai LLC against Greg Hack­ney, known lo­cally for his al­most daily, highly vis­i­ble protest in front of Pea­cock Auto Mall.

Hack­ney, a 53-year-old greater At­lanta res­i­dent, be­gan march­ing along the shoul­der of U.S. 278 in Sep­tem­ber 2017, in front of what was formerly called Hil­ton Head Hyundai to, in his words, protest the ser­vice and treat­ment he said he’d re­ceived from the deal­er­ship.

But the deal­er­ship, since re­branded as Pea­cock Hyundai Hil­ton Head, ar­gued Hack­ney’s claims — which sur­faced af­ter he’d brought his car in for re­pair and had nu­mer­ous back-and­forths with his in­surer — were un­founded, and soon sued Hack­ney for defama­tion, li­bel and slan­der.

The deal­er­ship fur­ther said Hack­ney’s ac­tions had de­terred cus­tomers and hurt its busi­ness, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

Mullen agreed with the deal­er­ship on both counts.

Her or­der last week con­tained a per­ma­nent in­junc­tion that pre­vents Hack­ney “from pub­lish­ing the defam­a­tory state­ments that the Deal­er­ship acted fraud­u­lently, un­pro­fes­sion­ally, un­trust­worthily, dis­hon­estly, un­eth­i­cally, or has en­gaged in bait and switch ac­tiv­i­ties,” the sen­ti­ments Hack­ney ex­pressed on his signs.

Hack­ney claimed his protest

was pro­tected by the Con­sti­tu­tion and free­dom of speech. Mullen dis­agreed.

“This Court fur­ther finds the speech is not pro­tected by the First Amend­ment,” said the or­der, which can be found on­line in the Jasper County Four­teenth Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit Pub­lic In­dex.

“Any fur­ther protest­ing would not serve any use­ful pur­pose in ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic about the Deal­er­ship,” the or­der con­tin­ued.

Hack­ney did not re­spond to a mes­sage left on his cell phone seek­ing com­ment Tues­day.

Brad Martin, a Greenville-based at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the deal­er­ship, did not re­spond to an email seek­ing com­ment Tues­day, and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive reached by phone at his law firm said he was out of the of­fice for a few days.

When asked if there were any forth­com­ing hear­ings sched­uled, Jasper County Clerk of Court Mar­garet Bo­stick said the case is, at the mo­ment, fi­nal­ized.

A sum­mary judg­ment is a pre-trial rul­ing made by a judge when there is no dis­pute among par­ties of “ma­te­rial fact” in the case, ac­cord­ing to Cor­nell Law School’s Le­gal In­for­ma­tion In­sti­tute. Af­ter a par­tial sum­mary judg­ment, a trial can fol­low to as­sess, for ex­am­ple, dam­ages or other items not yet ruled on.

Hack­ney’s “ac­tiv­ity,” as he called it, be­came lo­cally fa­mous in the Low­coun­try.

He was fix­ture on the road­side, known to com­muters who of­ten waved and honked as they flashed past him.

Cashiers at nearby gas sta­tions and stores some­times called him “Mr. Hyundai.”

He of­ten protested from roughly 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days ex­cept Sun­days, he told The Is­land Packet and The Beau­fort Gazette in April.

Hack­ney usu­ally stayed close to Jasper County, he said, but didn’t like to spend the night there — some­times he slept in his car, he told the news­pa­pers.

He said his job as a pri­vate con­sul­tant al­lowed him the flex­i­bil­ity to protest.

O.C. Welch — owner of neigh­bor­ing O.C. Welch Ford Lin­coln — pre­vi­ously told the news­pa­pers that he’d never seen any­thing like Hack­ney’s be­hav­ior in his four-plus decades in the car busi­ness.

Martin pre­vi­ously told the news­pa­pers that Hack­ney had once threat­ened deal­er­ship em­ploy­ees with vi­o­lence and had once asked for $1 mil­lion to “go away.”

Hack­ney re­sponded that his words were taken out of con­text and that he had of­fered the deal­er­ship a set­tle­ment, though not for $1 mil­lion.

The Jasper County Sher­iff’s Of­fice is­sued Hack­ney a tres­pass no­tice, ban­ning him from the deal­er­ship in late Sep­tem­ber 2017.

But at that time he was still able to march along the road­side on pub­lic prop­erty.

Hack­ney has rep­re­sented him­self dur­ing the past 14 months since the case was filed.

In fil­ings pre­ced­ing Mullen’s or­der, Martin noted that Hack­ney’s fil­ings were some­times sub­mit­ted late and filled with “ir­rel­e­vant ma­te­rial” that bogged down the court.

At an Oct. 31 hear­ing pre­ced­ing Mullen’s or­der, Martin told the court: “To­day is the day to bring the cir­cus to an end.”

“Hal­loween,” Martin con­tin­ued — what an ap­pro­pri­ate date.

JAY KARR [email protected]­land­packet.com

Greg San­ford Hack­ney pick­ets in Feb­ru­ary in front of Hil­ton Head Hyundai. On Nov. 13, a judge ruled his ac­tions were defam­a­tory and not pro­tected by the First Amend­ment, and or­dered a stop to his protest.

JAY KARR [email protected]­land­packet.com

In Feb­ru­ary, Greg San­ford Hack­ney cleans off one of his hand-made protest signs in a park­ing lot at New River Cen­ter be­fore be­gin­ning a day of pick­et­ing in front of Hil­ton Head Hyundai. On Nov. 13, a judge ruled his protest is defam­a­tory and not pro­tected by the First Amend­ment, and or­dered a stop to his protest.

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