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Source Protection: D-Day Looms For Will Folks

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WILL OUR FOUNDING EDITOR GO TO JAIL?

A hearing has been scheduled for later this month in a case that could send this website’s founding editor to prison for refusing to reveal his confidential sources.

Folks will appear before South Carolina circuit court judge Grace Knie on Wednesday, June 28 at 11:00 a.m. EDT at the Lexington County court house (205 E. Main Street, Lexington S.C.).

At issue in this hearing?  Whether Folks should be held in contempt for refusing to reveal three confidential sources sought in connection with an ongoing lawsuit against him and his website (which you are currently reading).

And if so, what punishment he should face as a result of his refusal.

S.C. circuit court judge Keith Kelly – whom this website frequently criticized for fiscally liberal votes during his tenure in the state legislature – issued a ruling last year demanding that Folks rat out his sources after he refused to do so during a September 2015 deposition.

Kelly’s ruling has been appealed to the S.C. Supreme Court – which has yet to say whether it will take the case.

In the meantime, Folks refused to rat out his sources a second time during a deposition taken in January of this year.

For those of you new to this story, Folks and FITSNews.com are being sued for defamation by a former South Carolina lawmaker.  This ex-politician, Kenny Bingham (below),  claims we libeled him in December 2014 by reporting on an ethics complaint reportedly filed against him.

(Click to view)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

To be clear:  There is no debate whatsoever as to the source for our original reporting.  In this particular case, the individual who furnished us with the information did so on the record.  Not only that, he provided us with a copy of his complaint against Bingham on the record – and furnished us with a written quote about his complaint, also on the record.

All of this has been previously affirmed by the source – and re-affirmed in an affidavit he submitted accompanying our response to Bingham’s lawsuit.

Bingham’s counter to all of that?  He says one of his former colleagues, state representative Rick Quinn, told us the report was “not true” – and that Quinn’s statement should have been enough to stop us from publishing any information about the complaint.

Quinn, incidentally, has since been indicted on two counts of misconduct in office.

Ordinarily such a “he said, she said” story would be a coin flip – which in the case of a public figure usually means “case dismissed.”  Not in South Carolina, though.  Thanks to the corrupt self-policing rules of the state’s legislative “ethics” committees, a shroud of secrecy surrounds complaints filed against state lawmakers.  Only members of these committees are allowed to see – or even discuss – these complaints.

Given that Quinn is not a member of the ethics committee, he would have had no way of knowing whether such a report had been filed.

Case closed, right?  We thought so … but apparently not.  Bingham’s compliant has since turned into a full-court press aimed at forcing Folks (below) to reveal his sources.

(Click to view)

(Via FITSNews.com)

Bingham abruptly resigned his post last spring right around the time rumors associated with an ongoing anti-corruption investigation at the S.C. State House were beginning to heat up.  Given his proximity to the political empire that’s currently under investigation, his name has been mentioned often in connection with this ongoing investigation.

Bingham apparently wants to know who has said what about him – and his lawyer, notorious “judicial hellhole” tort kingpin Johnny Parker – is going to the mattresses in an effort to find out.

Parker has even gone so far as to subpoena former S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell – apparently under the assumption he may have been one of our sources.

As we’ve said from the beginning of this case – which has drawn national attention – we believe Bingham’s lawsuit is nothing but a fishing expedition aimed at forcing us to reveal our sources.

Make no mistake: We’re not going to do that.  Ever.  No matter what they threaten us with.

As we noted in a previous post, people trust us with sensitive information – and when they provide us with this information on a source-protected basis, we give them our word that we will not expose their identities.  It’s a fundamental part of information gathering and reporting – not to mention an integral component of a free press.

“This case is no longer about a petulant ex-lawmaker looking to find out who said mean things about him,” we noted recently.  “It’s about journalistic privilege.  The First Amendment.  Freedom of the press.”

In fact this case has a direct bearing on media outlets all over the state – as a ruling against Folks could open the door to a wave of frivolous complaints that force reporters and political commentators to reveal their confidential sources.

In anticipation of this month’s hearing, Folks issued a statement reaffirming his intentions.

“I don’t rat sources, period,” Folks said. “If I have to go to jail to demonstrate that – and to protect this right for other journalists – I will do that.”


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