Goins fights back

WINNSBORO – Bertha Goins is fighting back.

A week after a Jenkinsville Water Company attorney issued a cease and desist letter and threatened to sue Goins over comments she’s made critical of water quality, she’s hired her own attorney to safeguard her First Amendment rights.

Working in a private capacity, Goins’ attorney Tommy Morgan said his client categorically denies making any false and defamatory statements.

Last Thursday, he wrote back to the JWC’s attorney, demanding that the water company cease infringing upon Goins’ right to free speech.

“Ms. Goins will not be silenced by Jenkinsville Water Company’s threats of legal action and damages to be sought against her for merely speaking out about the water she receives from Jenkinsville Water Company,” the letter states.

“Despite your meritless legal demand, Ms. Goins will continue to shed light on the matter that Jenkinsville Water Company seems so intent on keeping in the dark,” the letter continues.

In a telephone interview with The Voice, Morgan said Goins has no desire to engage in a protracted legal battle. But Morgan noted Goins is committed to speaking freely about water quality issues.

“We would be happy to have a meeting with the Jenkinsville Water Company over their water quality,” he said. “She was just trying to express her thoughts and concerns.”

Morgan also questioned why Goins appears to have been singled out.

“Other individuals spoke to the media about water quality,” he said. “It would be interesting to see if anyone else received a cease and desist letter. This threat of legal action is not going to stop Ms. Goins.”

Goins has been a frequent critic of not only the Jenkinsville Water Company, but also the Town of Jenkinsville and Greg Ginyard, president of the JWC and the town’s mayor.

In June 2018, Goins lobbied heavily against a massive annexation effort by the town, which was voted down. Morgan said he couldn’t say whether Goins’ past clashes with the town contributed to the letter.

“Obviously the water company is distinct and separate from the Town of Jenkinsville,” Morgan said. “Ms. Goins is not focusing on the annexation vote.”

When asked by The Voice for a comment about Morgan’s response, an attorney representing the water company emailed that, “JWC does plan on making a full response to Mr. Morgan’s letter next week, but we do not see this as a First Amendment issue as defamatory statements are not protected by the First Amendment.”

On March 28, a Goodwyn Law Firm attorney sent a cease and desist letter to Goins, which disputed remarks she made to various local media organizations stating that Jenkinsville water quality is poor and contains sediments.

“These false and misleading statements are defamatory and illegal,” the letter stated. “Legal demand is hereby made that you immediately stop such illegal activities.

“If you continue to make such false and defamatory statements, I have been instructed to take all legal steps to enforce my client’s rights, including filing suit against you, for injunctive relief, slander and defamation seeking all damages allowed by law,” the letter continues.

Also on March 28, in tandem with the cease and desist letter, the Jenkinsville Water Company sent a separate letter to its members.

That letter contested of what the JWC calls “erroneous reporting,” and makes several innuendos about being absorbed by larger water companies.

Both The Voice and The State newspapers, citing public records, have reported that the JWC has been cited by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Documents obtained by The Voice show the JWC has been cited three times in the past five years, most recently in 2016.

As for the suggestion that the JWC is facing absorption, the newly formed Fairfield Joint Water and Sewer Authority, which consists of Fairfield County and Town of Winnsboro representatives, has been discussing ways to beef up infrastructure at the I-77 megasite.

The authority’s chief objective, however, is to attract new industry to Fairfield County, and not to consolidate other water companies. Absorbing the JWC or any other water company has never been discussed.

Goins has independently called for the JWC to join the authority, but no other council members have made that suggestion.

Still, the JWC letter takes several jabs at water authorities.

“When smaller companies are taken over by a larger water system, this historically results in rate increases between 100% and 150%,” the letter states. “We are committed to not letting this happen to JWC members.”

Morgan questioned the JWC’s statistics.

“I have no idea where they got that data from,” he said.