A professor of history at the University of Virginia and a journalist who wrote for Charlottesville’s weekly newspaper are breathing easier today after a judge threw out a lawsuit against them.
A crowd of well wishers gathered to greet UVA history Professor Jalane Schmidt and reporter Lisa Provence as they emerged from Albemarle County Circuit Court. That’s where Edward Dickinson Tayloe II claimed an article in Cville Weekly impaired his reputation.
Provence wrote about Tayloe, a 76-year-old portfolio manager, after he and 12 other people sued to stop Charlottesville from removing confederate monuments. She pointed out that Tayloe’s family had once owned hundreds of slaves and quoted Schmidt on the cruel practices employed by his ancestors.
The ACLU defended Schmidt’s right to express her opinion about Tayloe and his kin.
“There are no set of facts that someone can offer to prove that they are not racist," says attorney Eden Heilman. "It’s an inherently subjective term. That goes to the very heart of the fact that it’s an opinion.”
The judge agreed and lawyer Heilman said she was thrilled, but she also worried that cases of this kind might discourage people from expressing opinions about powerful people.
“There is definitely a chilling effect in that you’re scared to speak publicly, because you’re worried about where you could end up in defending against costly litigation.”
Had the case gone forward, and had Tayloe prevailed, he was asking the court to award him $1.7 million.