The environmental lawyer leading the legal charge to block construction of International Drive is suing a road supporter, stating that criticisms published on Facebook, in emails and published letters to the editor of The Sun News are libelous.
The lawsuit by Amy Armstrong, executive director of the S.C. Environmental Law Project (SCELP), also asked for a restraining order and injunction against Heritage Reserve resident Scott Dilliard to prohibit him from publishing “false, defamatory, or threatening statements” about the group or its director.
Both the restraining order and injunction were granted Tuesday by 15the Judicial Circuit Judge Roger Henderson in Georgetown.
Dilliard, who lives near International Drive, is a vocal supporter of the road’s construction and against lawsuits filed by SCELP in state and federal courts on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League and S.C. Wildlife Federation.
The environmentalists are trying to halt road construction, claiming it will endanger the local bear population and damage wetlands. The state court ruled in favor of Horry County to build the road; however, Armstrong has a request pending to block construction until a federal lawsuit can proceed.
Armstrong’s libel lawsuit claims that Dilliard made threatening statements in an Oct. 6, 2015 email to her and unnamed third parties. Dilliard allegedly said it was time to stop being a nice guy “and go after a few lawyers throats.”
“We could hold the Environmental Terrorist Organizations’ hostage by threatening to send them bits and pieces of the plants and animals they purport to ‘value’ ... every month ... until they withdraw their objections to the paving of International Drive,” Dilliard said.
The lawsuit says Dilliard accused the environmentalists of being greedy, crooks, unscrupulous, incompetent and extortionists
Armstrong said she is being represented in this case by legal counsel, and they will not be commenting on the lawsuit.
“We will let the judge decide it,” Armstrong said.
Dilliard said he will not be writing any more letters to the editor, and was hesitant to speak about the case for fear of violating the judge’s order.
Although the judge said “Dilliard is free to advocate his positions with the strongest language possible,” he is prohibited from publishing statements that Armstrong or SCELP engage in criminal or unethical conduct, that she or the group is engaged in environmental terrorism, extortion, behave unethically or is incompetent.
“I’m afraid to say anything right now. I really should not be talking to you, just for my own safety,” Dilliard said. “I have to go out and find a lawyer who knows libel law.”
The Sun News has published letters to the editor authored by Dilliard, one of which is cited in the complaint. In the letter, Dilliard says environmentalists intend “to hold our communities hostage for their benefit.”
I’m afraid to say anything right now. Scott Dilliard
An email sent to a Sun News editorial page editor is also cited, as are emails sent to The State newspaper, as well as several Facebook posts and emails to public officials and donors to the environmental group.
The lawsuit is seeking financial damages, and claims that Dilliard’s publication of false statements is directed at financial donors “with the goal of interfering with the ability of Ms. Armstrong to earn her livelihood.”
The environmental law firm has “suffered damage to its reputation in the community, specifically resulting in a loss to its ability to raise money through donations,” the lawsuit said. “SCELP relies on these donations to continue its efforts to protect natural resources in South Carolina.”
Under the restraining order issued, Dilliard is prohibited from contacting Armstrong or attending an Oct. 8 fund-raising event, the 7the Annual Wildside Celebration in Georgetown, which honors the legacy of the environmental law project founder, Jimmy Chandler.