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South Carolina political blogger does not need to reveal anonymous sources, judge rules

September 25, 2017 GMT

COLUMBIA — South Carolina political blogger Will Folks will not need to reveal his anonymous sources as part of a defamation case against him, a judge ruled Monday.

But Circuit Judge William Keesley added that the Columbia-area blogger will not be able to use those confidential sources as part of his defense that he did not act with malice or reckless disregard for the truth.

Folks is being sued by former Cayce Republican state Rep. Kenny Bingham, who alleges that Folks defamed him in a series of articles on his website, fitsnews.com, in 2014 and 2015. The articles were about an ethics investigation and Statehouse corruption probe.

State Sen. Tom Davis, a Beaufort Republican representing Folks in the case, said he considered the Lexington County order to be a “complete victory” for Folks’ First Amendment rights.

“The best we could have hoped for here is what we got, which was not being compelled to reveal the source,” Davis said.

The order may also set a significant precedent in South Carolina. This ruling represents the first time a judge in the state has found that a journalist being sued for defamation does not need to reveal anonymous sources as part of discovery, Davis said.

“The judge really carved out here a qualified privilege for journalists, which I think is very important,” he said.

Folks will now have to disprove the defamation claim using other evidence. But Davis said he has no concern he will be able to do that, arguing he has plenty of other forms of evidence to clear Folks in the case.

An attorney representing Bingham did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This story is developing.