Johnston County Public Schools board chairman Todd Sutton has threatened a civil lawsuit against two Johnston County citizens. Sutton, through his attorney, Alan “Chip” Hewett of Selma, wrote a letter Feb. 18th to the individuals threatening legal action if they did not cease making comments about Mr. Sutton to the public and on social media. The letter was directed to Jim Wiesner of Clayton and Douglas Moore II of Princeton. Wiesner is the former mayor of Micro.
Dear Mr. Wiesner and Mr. Moore:
I represent Mr. Todd Sutton. You are directed to make any reply in writing to this office and do not contact Mr. Sutton.
Over the past several months, the two of you have engaged in a smear campaign regarding the reputation and character of Mr. Sutton. You have made several public derogatory and negative comments to members of the public and on social media sites. Your claims are unfounded and untrue. For the record, Mr. Sutton has never been convicted of a felony in Florida or any other state. While you may think your comment about it snowing in the Keys and 5 o’clock somewhere is cute, any average person knows you are referring to cocaine and alcohol use. As for his last name, Todd was adopted; and after he got married, he assumed the birth name of his father. He has nothing to hide and the name change is nothing sinister.
Your public comments are taken seriously, and they are nothing short of libel and slander. These statements are false and inaccurate, and I am making a demand on behalf of Mr. Sutton to retract the statements. You both are instructed to make no further disparaging comments about Todd or his family. Please make no mistake about it – if your conduct continues, my client will exhaust every legal remedy he has available. This matter is serious and requires your immediate response.
Your best course of conduct is to put this matter behind you. This letter will be the only notification that you will receive, and I strongly suggest that you immediately cease and desist your behavior.
Alan B. Hewitt
Johnston County Report reached out to Mr. Hewett on Monday and confirmed he was being retained privately by Todd Sutton and not through Johnston County Public Schools. Hewett declined to address the specifics or details of “any false statements made” saying “the matter is ongoing.” Hewett said Sutton has never been charged or convicted of a felony.
In an emailed statement Tuesday morning, Hewett told Johnston County Report, “Mr. Sutton, like the other members of the School Board, volunteer a great deal of time and energy to serve the parents and students of Johnston County. It is a thankless job. Social media is an outlet to voice praises or complaints as to how the board members are voting and setting policy. It is not an outlet to perform character assassination or make comments that are false and misleading.”
“Todd Sutton, who is a respectable, self-made, and yes adopted man, will not sit idle and allow his reputation and character to be tarnished on matters that have nothing to do with the School Board. It is most interesting that the letter you were given was mailed on February 18. You received a copy and contacted me on February 22. Rather than address the content of the letter direct in a manly fashion, the recipients have quickly retreated to the media to continue the smear campaign. The unrelated personal attacks will not be tolerated,” Hewett said in his email.
We reached out to Frayda Bluestein, Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Government at the School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We asked if First Amendment speech is protected on social media platforms. “Social media opens up broad options for First Amendment expression, although defamation is not protected speech. If the allegations are true there is no case for defamation… People who are public officials open themselves to a higher standard, and the official must prove that the speaker spoke with ‘actual malice’.”
Sutton has served on the JCPS board since 2017.
Mr. Wiesner declined to comment for our story. Mr. Moore said he was unable to comment upon advice of his attorney.