As press secretary for Charleston's top prosecutor, Frank O. Hunt prefers to stick close to his boss' message on cases and decisions. On the Internet, however, it's a whole different story.
After six years with the 9th Circuit Solicitor's Office, Hunt finds himself in a sticky spot after someone traced anonymous comments posted on Charleston.net to an e-mail account that bears his name.
More than 100 comments, under the screen name "afternoondelight," were posted in connection with dozens of articles published by The Post and Courier over several months.
From pending court cases to political races, the poster has weighed in on any number of issues, at times with harsh commentary and racial overtones. In his postings "afternoondelight" makes no secret of his disdain for criminals or his favoritism for his boss, Scarlett Wilson, who faces a June primary fight against former Deputy Solicitor Blair Jennings.
Wilson was unaware of the postings until contacted Monday by The Post and Courier. She later said she had not spoken to Hunt but would handle the matter privately. She said the comments are "one person's views" and do not reflect the opinions of her office.
"This person certainly has the right to his opinion, though some of them are highly offensive," she said.
Hunt declined to comment on the substance of the postings but said he was "stunned" that The Post and Courier would reveal the source of comments posted with the expectation of confidentiality. "I will never post another one, I will tell you that," he said.
Charleston.net allows readers to post comments on stories under anonymous screen names, but the site specifically states that comments concerning stories "will not be considered confidential."
In one posting, "afternoon- delight" questioned the credibility of a girl who reportedly had been sexually victimized by an adult at school. The poster suggested that the girl "made the whole thing up" in hopes of getting the married man all to herself. "Conniving little tramp," he wrote.
In another post that day, "afternoondelight" weighed in on the hunt for suspects in a North Charleston killing. "Let's just hope that when they are confronted by police they pull their weapons and have to be shot dead."
His response to a story about a man charged with fondling a child: "Strip him down to nothing, baste his privates with gravy and put him in a cage with pit bulls."
In a handful of posts, "afternoondelight" weighs in on political contests. His take on Charleston Mayor Joe Riley running strongest in white voting areas in the Nov. 6 election: "Dat's cause wite peeple ain't stoopit."
The poster also makes no bones about his choice for solicitor, extolling Wilson's virtues in various posts as a "tough, no nonsense prosecutor" whose "dedication, performance and experience trumps Mr. Jennings everytime." "You have my vote!"
Jennings, who had read the posts, said he was most troubled by the attack on the credibility of the sexual assault victim.
"I obviously don't think people in the solicitor's office should be attacking victims," he said. "Those things are not appropriate for someone in the solicitor's office to be saying under any scenario, and to sort of hide behind a blogger's name is not appropriate either."
Hunt, a former television reporter, was hired by former Solicitor Ralph Hoisington and continued in the job after Hoisington's death in June. Hunt works part time, often in the morning. Many of the "afternoondelight" posts were made in the morning as well, but Hunt said he did not use county computers to make Internet comments.
Charleston lawyer Timothy Bouch, an expert on ethical issues, said judicial rules of conduct wouldn't preclude Hunt from exercising his First Amendment rights and posting comments, as long as he didn't share confidential information or offer legal advice.
Vincent Benigni, an associate communications professor at the College of Charleston, said he advises those studying public relations that it's best to be transparent and take responsibility for your statements. Someone who holds a position of public trust would be better off writing a signed letter to the editor, he said.
"If you're going to go ahead and make outrageous statements," he said, "be prepared for what happens next."