Attorney: Statements from trial about Mayor Benjamin could lead - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Attorney: Statements from trial about Mayor Benjamin could lead to civil action

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

Last week during the Jonathan Pinson trial, there was an emphasis in reports that Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin has not been charged with anything despite accusations made during trial by prosecutors.

Throughout the trial, Benjamin's name was brought up in testimony repeatedly including one account that detailed a wild trip Benjamin, Pinson, and others took to Florida which included luxurious accommodations and parties with strippers.

Benjamin released a statement after those accusations were made public, stating that he had done nothing illegal and that he would gladly speak further after the trial ended.

Following Pinson's conviction on 29 charges, the mayor kept his word and released another statement.

In that statement, Benjamin stated that he "should have used better judgement." Now, state ethics officials want to know more about the trip and why Benjamin didn't list it as a gift on his ethics filing for that year.

However, there is another question that has yet to be answered as to why prosecutors mentioned Mayor Benjamin so often and in such circumstances.

Assistant U.S. Attorney DeWayne Pearson went so far as to say Benjamin lined his own pockets with money meant for the Village at River's Edge housing development during the trial's opening statements. Again, Benjamin was never charged with any crime.

"There are boundaries we both have to follow," attorney Jack Swerling said. "Anything we say in court should have some basis to it."

Swerling said statements in court are protected speech.

"It's when you step out of the courtroom, make those comments," Swerling explained, "that you're possibly liable for what you might say."

Since Mayor Benjamin hasn't been charged with a crime, Swerling said there could be a basis for civil action regarding some of those statements.

"You'd have to show some reckless disregard for the truth," Swerling said, "if such a remedy did exist."

Attorney statements and evidence regarding what was said about Mayor Benjamin during the Pinson trial was not available at the time WIS arrived at the federal courthouse. As for the ethics filings, a letter was sent by the Ethics Commission. However, we were told by Mayor Benjamin's office that they had not received the letter yet.

Copyright 2014 WIS. All rights reserved.

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