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Trustees take legal action over letter
By ANNA BROWN
The Union County Board of School Trustees has filed a summons designed to uncover the identity of a letter writer who called himself “The Good Guy.”
The letter, which the school board asserts in the summons was false, malicious and defaming, was sent by email to 25 recipients, including members of the school board around Oct. 12, 2015. It alleged a series of unethical and illegal actions taken by members of the school board.
The summons, filed on Jan. 21 in the Union County Clerk of Court's office on behalf of the school board by Mt. Pleasant lawyer Steven Abrams, names the school board as plaintiffs and “John Doe” as the defendant.
The summons said John Doe used “spoofing” - the practice of disguising an email to make the email appear to come from an address or individual from which it actually did not originate.
One means of spoofing involves placing in the “From” or “Reply to” lines in emails an email address other than the actual sender's address without the consent or authorization of the user of the email address whose address is spoofed. Spoofing can also be accomplished by setting up unauthorized email accounts under the name of an individual that will fraudulently be seen as the originator of the emails and/or choosing email addresses that are so similar to the actual email address used by the apparent originator of the email so as to create the impression that the emails came from that individual.
Abrams said this legal action is necessary to force the Internet service provider to reveal the name of the person who holds the email account.
“It provides the vehicle to send the subpoena to identify the sender of the email,” he said.
The letter was sent to school board members, various elected officials, South Carolina Department of Education employees and various members of the news media, the summons said. The anonymous email was purportedly sent by “UnionCountyStudents1st” a handle for a gmail account, firstname.lastname@example.org. This use of a fictitious name associated with the emails is an example of email spoofing and was employed to protect John Doe's identity, the summons states. Key to the defamation alleged was an attachment entitled, “Union County Schools Corruption.pdf,” which contained a nine-page letter and a six-page addendum. The letter alleges a conspiracy between the board members and others in the education community to “seek vengeance” against the then-superintendent Dr. Kristi Woodall and her supporters. “The Good Guy” also alleged that trustees and others have communicated
improperly and developed a plan to take out Woodall and in so doing violated the community trust. Woodall resigned at the end of 2015 to pursue other career opportunities. She is now assistant principal of the 9th grade campus at Boiling Springs High School.
The letter alleged a scheme by certain board members hostile to Woodall to remove two board members said to be closest to the superintendent by falsely accusing the two of an ethics violation involving nepotism. The letter alleged that one board member “violated several laws and code of conduct for elected officials in South Carolina by checking with athletic faculty and staff regarding the health status of a particular student athlete.
“Some of the letter's most libelous accusations are directed towards board member Mike Massey, who is accused of illegally obstructing and recruiting others to assist in obstructing an ongoing SLED investigation,” the suit said.
The letter was published with actual or implied malice, was false and specifically identified some board members by name in defamatory statements, the summons said. It asks the court to grant an injunction from the continuing publication of the defamatory materials and award special, presumed and punitive damages for John Doe's intentional and reckless publication of defamatory material, plus court costs.
Trustees voted 7-1 in November to approve a motion by Manning Jeter for their board's lawyers to investigate the e-mailed letter, signed by “The Good Guy,” and try to determine where it originated. Trustee Jane Wilkes voted no.
“About 70 percent of this letter, I believe, came out of executive session,” Jeter said after the vote. “It's a violation of everybody's rights in this room.”
(Posted February 1, 2016)