A former South Carolina Department of Transportation commissioner and local developer has filed a lawsuit against a state politics blog over claims of libel.
DDC Engineers’ Mike Wooten is suing online blog FITSNews and its author over accusations of libel — claiming he has suffered personal damages due to false claims published on the blog’s website.
Wooten, of Murrells Inlet, is often criticized in local and statewide blogs due to his previous role at the South Carolina Department of Transportation and for being the agent for many major developments along the Grand Strand.
He filed the suit in Georgetown County with the 15th Judicial Circuit on Nov. 20. According to the filing, Wooten is suing over four separate instances that he believes FITSNews libeled him in posts published on the site.
FITSNews is a blog run by Will Folks of Columbia that focuses on a variety of issues, including state government, international affairs and sports.
The four articles Wooten is claiming libeled him were published in between March 2016 and July 2017. All four focused on his role and resignation as the commissioner and chairman of the S.C. Transportation Commission.
The court filings list one article, published on July 18, 2017, that calls Wooten a “notoriously corrupt former leader.”
The court filings claim that Wooten has suffered personal and professional damages, as well as mental and emotional stress as a result of these articles. The court documents argue Wooten is entitled to damages as a result of FITSnews and Folks purposefully promoting fraudulent claims against Wooten.
Folks wrote in a text message to The Sun News that his articles took no difference of tone than similar ones posted by other blogs. He said he and his lawyers agree that they did not libel Wooten.
Folks cited various written pieces, including The Nerve, which said Wooten used his SCDOT position to pressure a local government agency into a contract Wooten’s firm was involved with, actnow.io, a site that asked for Wooten’s resignation, and an article on Wooten’s resignation written by South Strand News.
South Strand News cites Wooten as resigning due to a new law that would not allow commissioners to apply for permits for SCDOT — legislation that would have forced Wooten to abandon his business.
“Likewise, there is no shortage of editorial commentary on his tenure from other media outlets, elected officials and government watchdogs — including those who called on the former commissioner to resign due to ethical lapses, or who referred to his actions in office as ‘corrupt’ or an ‘abuse of power,’” Folks said.
The Sun News reached out to Wooten for a statement, but he did not immediately respond.