Supreme Court overturns $11 million defamation verdicts

CHARLESTON, S.C. — South Carolina’s high court has overturned $11 million in verdicts against a Charleston attorney accused of defaming a businessman by comparing him to television mobster Tony Soprano.

The state Supreme Court this week sent a civil case against Paul Hulsey back to Cir­cuit Court, The Post and Courier of Charleston reported.

Hulsey was sued years ago by Charleston businessmen Lawton Limehouse Sr. The attorney had previously sued Limehouse’s company on behalf of day laborers, claiming staffing agency L&L Services made fake green cards and So­cial Security cards, exploited workers and didn’t pay overtime.

“This is a blatant case of indentured servitude,” Hulsey told the newspaper in 2004. “L&L Services took advantage of the complexity of the system. They have created a perfect racketeering system, just like Tony Soprano.”

Authorities looked into Hulsey’s allegations but didn’t bring charges. The lawsuit was ultimately settled for $20,000, according to the high court’s ruling.

Limehouse said the comparison to the TV character linked him with a murderer, gangster, gambler and extortionist. He said the statements caused him to lose business and “suffer great mental anguish and depression caused by the injury to his reputation.”

Limehouse and Lawton Limehouse Jr. sued Hulsey for defamation. When their cases were moved from federal court to state court, a circuit judge found Hulsey in default for missing a deadline to respond. Separate juries imposed a total of $11 million in judgments against him.

But the justices said that lower court was wrong to find Hulsey in default and ordered the case back to Circuit Court.

Hulsey’s attorney said he and his client were pleased with the result. A lawyer for the Limehouses said he was disappointed and didn’t know where in the legal process the case would resume.

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