The SC Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a Horry County jury ruling that The Sun News and former investigative reporter David Wren defamed Myrtle Beach area lobbyist Mark Kelley in articles on campaign contributions.
The newspaper’s executives have yet to decide what their next move will be.
“We are disappointed with the decision and are considering our next steps,” said Mark Webster, president and editor of The Sun News.
Wren, who now works for The Post and Courier in Charleston, referred questions about the case to The Sun News attorney Jay Bender.
“I am disappointed with the decision,” Bender said, adding that the newspaper and Wren “will have the opportunity to ask the court to reconsider and, if that reconsideration is denied, to ask the South Carolina Supreme Court to reconsider the matter. ‘case. . ”
Kelley, who could not be reached for comment, sued Wren and The Sun Publishing Co. in 2012 to seek redress for “his loss and / or damage to his reputation, personal and professional reputation,” according to his trial.
The stories featured a June 2009 luncheon attended by Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce president Brad Dean, Kelley, then-gubernatorial candidate Gresham Barrett and a campaign staff member by Barrett.
Over lunch, Dean presented Barrett with an envelope containing $ 84,000 in campaign donations, most of which were sequentially numbered checks from LLCs (limited liability companies) drawn on the same bank.
Kelley said the wording of the articles, which were published in May 2010, accused him of violating state ethics laws that prohibit lobbyists from soliciting or managing campaign donations for candidates across the country. the state.
Lawyers for the newspaper and for Wren argued that the accounts had not defamed Kelley or damaged her reputation, but were part of a series of stories about campaign contributions. The newspaper’s executives say they were trying to determine where the donations came from.
The jury sided with Kelley and in 2014 awarded the lobbyist $ 400,000 in actual damages and $ 250,000 in punitive damages. The newspaper appealed the decision and the appeals court heard the case on December 9.
“We find that there is clear and compelling evidence for [jury’s] conclusion ”, wrote the judges of the Court of Appeal. “Therefore, the award of punitive damages in this case does not violate the constitutional rights of Wren and Sun Publishing.”
Bender, the newspaper’s lawyer, said if the newspaper wishes to pursue the case, the decision to reconsider the case will be in the hands of the court.
“Given that this is a case involving a serious constitutional question, I am optimistic that the courts will consider these motions with sympathy,” he said.