Ex-SCDOT com­mis­sioner su­ing state pol­i­tics blog

The Sun News (Sunday) - - Local & Sports - BY TYLER FLEM­ING AND ME­GAN TOMASIC tflem­[email protected]­sun­news.com mtoma­[email protected]­sun­news.com

A for­mer South Carolina De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion com­mis­sioner and lo­cal de­vel­oper has filed a law­suit against a state pol­i­tics blog over claims of li­bel.

DDC En­gi­neers’ Mike Wooten is su­ing on­line blog FITSNews and its au­thor over accu- sa­tions of li­bel — claim­ing he has suf­fered per­sonal dam­ages be­cause of false claims pub­lished on the blog’s web­site.

Wooten, of Mur­rells In­let, of­ten is crit­i­cized in lo­cal and statewide blogs be­cause of his pre­vi­ous role at the South Carolina De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion and for be­ing the agent for many ma­jor de­vel­op­ments along the Grand Strand.

He filed the suit in George- town County with the 15th Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit on Nov. 20. Ac­cord­ing to the fil­ing, Wooten is su­ing over four in­stances he be­lieves FITSNews li­beled him in posts pub­lished on the site.

FITSNews is a blog run by Will Folks of Columbia that fo­cuses on a va­ri­ety of is­sues, in­clud­ing state govern­ment, in­ter­na­tional af­fairs and sports.

The four ar­ti­cles Wooten is claim­ing li­beled him were pub­lished be­tween March 2016 and July 2017. All four fo­cused on his role and res­ig­na­tion as the com­mis­sioner and chair­man of the S.C. Trans­porta­tion Com­mis­sion.

The court fil­ings list one ar­ti­cle, pub­lished on July 18, 2017, that calls Wooten a “no­to­ri­ously cor­rupt for­mer leader.”

The court fil­ings claim that Wooten has suf­fered per­sonal and pro­fes­sional dam­ages, as well as men­tal and emo­tional stress as a re­sult of th­ese arti- cles. The court doc­u­ments ar­gue Wooten is en­ti­tled to dam­ages as a re­sult of FITSNews and Folks pur­pose­fully pro­mot­ing fraud­u­lent claims against Wooten.

Folks wrote in a text mes­sage to The Sun News that his ar­ti­cles took no dif­fer­ence of tone than sim­i­lar ones posted by other blogs. He said he and his lawyers agree that they did not li­bel Wooten.

Folks cited var­i­ous writ­ten pieces, in­clud­ing The Nerve, which said Wooten used his SCDOT po­si­tion to pres­sure a lo­cal govern­ment agency into a con­tract Wooten’s firm was in­volved with, act­now.io, a site that asked for Wooten’s res­ig­na­tion, and an ar­ti­cle on Wooten’s

res­ig­na­tion writ­ten by South Strand News.

South Strand News cites Wooten as re­sign­ing be­cause of a new law that would not al­low com­mis­sion­ers to ap­ply for per­mits for SCDOT — leg­is­la­tion that would have forced Wooten to aban­don his busi­ness.

“Like­wise, there is no short­age of ed­i­to­rial com­men­tary on his ten­ure from other me­dia out­lets, elected of­fi­cials and govern­ment watch­dogs — in­clud­ing those who called on the for­mer com­mis­sioner to re­sign due to eth­i­cal lapses, or who re­ferred to his ac­tions in of­fice as ‘cor­rupt’ or an ‘abuse of power,’ ” Folks said.

The Sun News reached out to Wooten for a state­ment, but he did not im­me­di­ately re­spond.

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