Crime & Courts

Lexington jury finds blogger libeled ex-Rep. Bingham; awards $1

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A Lexington County jury Friday awarded former state Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, $1 after a four-day libel trial against Columbia-based blogger Will Folks.

Bingham said he was heartened by the verdict.

“It was never about money,” Bingham said. “While it is clearly the media’s job to hold public officials accountable, if there is someone in that (media) industry that gets out of line, we have to stand up and defend ourselves, too. The stories that were published were absolutely untrue and damaging to me and my family, and I wanted to be exonerated.”

In his lawsuit, filed in 2015, Bingham said Folks quoted unnamed sources who falsely impugned his ethics and implicated him to a State House public corruption probe.

Citing confidentiality, Folks refused to divulge the identity of one of his sources. State Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles of Florence instructed jurors that, because of that refusal, they should consider that Folks had no source.

In a 2017 pretrial hearing, Folks testified his sources spoke to him under the condition that their names not be revealed, a contractual commitment that he could not break.

In his closing argument, Bingham’s lawyer, Johnny Parker, suggested jurors award his client up to $300,000 for his damages. The jury awarded $1.

No punitive damages were awarded.

“I knew a price would have to be paid once I resolved to stand on principle and not reveal my sources,” Folks told The State. “I’m just glad that price didn’t break the bank.”

Media lawyer Jay Bender, who represents The State and other media organizations, said, “It’s difficult for a politician in most instances to prove injury in cases where the publication concerns the politician’s activities.”

Folks was represented at the trial by attorneys Bill Hopkins and his son, Clay Hopkins, both of Pawleys Island. State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, also was one of Folks’ attorneys.

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