On Jan. 19, Pinewood Lake Park Foundation CEO Liewendelyn Hart went to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and filed an incident report with a deputy containing false claims against Quorum publisher Ron Aiken.
Hart is currently under FBI, South Carolina Attorney General and Secretary of State investigations for her handling of hundreds of thousands of hospitality-tax dollars first reported by Quorum.
The officer who took the report closed the report as “unfounded” and referred Hart to civil court.
On Feb. 24, Hart repeated the false accusations to Blythewood Magistrate Court Judge Josef Robinson, and Aiken was issued a Magistrate Restraining Order summons.
Monday, Aiken appeared without legal representation at the Magistrate Court in Blythewood to defend himself against the charges of harassment and stalking brought by Hart and her attorney, Nathaniel Roberson.
After Hart and Aiken’s testimony under oath, cross examination and closing statements, Judge Robinson ruled that no proof had been given to show any actions by Aiken as rising to the level necessary for a restraining order, as Aiken contacted Hart just twice by phone and twice by text in the course of his reporting and, when asked in December not to contact Hart, did not do so again.
“I am thankful that the truth of this matter was recognized and commend Judge Robinson tremendously for being able to distinguish it clearly,” Aiken said. “I contacted Ms. Hart responsibly, as any journalist would when seeking comment on a story, and when she asked not to be contacted any more back in December I respected her wishes completely and documented that request online.
“There are very real cases of stalking and harassment that occur, and it’s unfortunate that someone called twice by phone and texted twice to comment for stories involving them would use our court system to bring improper harassment charges against a reporter, charges that included multiple lies, because they don’t like the consequences of accurate reporting.
“In that way, it’s a small victory for journalists and the First Amendment, because reasonable contact by a journalist seeking information from a subject who is the recipient of hundreds of thousands of public dollars as to how that money was spent is speech protected by the First Amendment.”
As the non-prevailing party, Hart was assessed a filing fee of $55.