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Environment: Attorney in road appeals sues critic for libel

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Scott Dilliard won’t be going to the Wild Side benefit for the S.C. Environmental Law Project. A Circuit Court judge this week granted a temporary restraining order against the Horry County resident this week as part of a libel suit brought by the law project and its general counsel, Amy Armstrong.

Dilliard had threatened to disrupt the annual benefit for the law project, scheduled for next month at Hobcaw Barony, as part of a campaign to get the Coastal Conservation League and S.C. Wildlife Federation to drop their opposition to a road paving project in Horry County, according to court filings. Armstrong represents the environmental groups in their appeal of state and federal permits for paving a portion of International Drive between Highway 90 near Conway and the Carolina Bays Parkway.

In a series of letters, email and posts on social media, Dilliard accused Armstrong and her organization of criminal and unethical behavior, according to filings in the case. In one instance, Dilliard told Armstrong he was “going after a few lawyers throats,” which caused her to fear for her safety, according to the complaint.

The attacks, which the suit calls “vicious and vitriolic,” have damaged her reputation and her ability to “zealously represent … clients,” the suit claims.

Armstrong and the law project are represented by Davis Whitfield-Cargile of North Carolina and Bob Moran of Pawleys Island. Moran said they agreed not to comment on the case.

“Unfortunately, I’ve been muzzled,” Dilliard said following the judge’s ruling. He represented himself at the hearing and said he is looking for an attorney. “The meanest and most aggressive one I can get,” he added.

In granting the restraining order, Judge Roger Henderson said Dilliard can continue to talk about the paving dispute and “advocate his positions with the strongest language possible.” But he is enjoined from publishing “false, defamatory or threatening statements” about Armstrong or the law project while the suit is pending.

He is also enjoined from attending the Wild Side benefit or contacting the law project’s donors “for the purpose of dissuading them from honoring financial commitments.”

Concerned Citizens for Paving of International Drive has picketed the Coastal Conservation League and S.C. Environmental Law Project offices in Georgetown to bring pressure to end the appeals. A state Administrative Law Court judge this summer denied the challenge to state permits for the paving. Horry County began work on the project, but the environmental groups appealed to the state Court of Appeals and have sought an order staying the lower court ruling.

Felicia Soto, a member of the concerned citizens, said the libel suit won’t deter their fight for the paving project. “All of his intentions were in the right place,” she said of Dilliard. “Sometimes people are a little more passionate.”

According to the suit, Dilliard’s statements to newspapers, public officials and donors “impugned the character, honesty, fitness and reputation” of Armstrong and the law project. He labeled them “environmental terrorists” and accused them of trying to “extort money,” according to court filings. He also called Armstrong “incompetent legal counsel.”

“I propose we take a look at some actions that will hurt them in the pocket book … or embarrass them with their major sources of funding,” Dilliard wrote in an email included in the suit. He also suggested sending “bits and pieces of the plants and animals they purport to value” until the appeals were dropped.

“Go ahead,” Dilliard wrote in another email about the groups. “Prove me wrong.”

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