Judge throws out defamation lawsuit against C-VILLE and UVA prof
On October 28, the Albemarle Circuit Court ruled in favor of C-VILLE Weekly and former news editor Lisa Provence, concluding that a defamation claim brought by Edward Tayloe II lacked the legal basis to proceed.
Judge Claude Worrell also ruled in favor of UVA professor Jalane Schmidt, whom Tayloe also sued for defamation, citing comments she made in C-VILLE’s story.
The story at issue, “The Plaintiffs: Who’s who in the fight to keep Confederate monuments,” published in March, profiled the 13 people and organizations suing the city to keep the statues in place. Tayloe’s entry noted his lineage as one of the First Families of Virginia, and included information about his family’s history as one of the largest slave-holding dynasties in the state, a matter of historical record published, among other places, in the 2014 book A Tale of Two Plantations. Schmidt is quoted observing, in respect to Tayloe’s ancestors, “for generations this family has been roiling the lives of black people.”
In May, Tayloe sued the paper, Provence, and Schmidt, alleging that the story and Schmidt’s statements were defamatory because they implied that he was racist, and seeking $1.7 million in damages.
As lawyers for C-VILLE argued in their reply in support of their request to dismiss, Tayloe “does not contend that C-VILLE Weekly got any facts wrong in the article at issue. Instead, he is aggrieved by the truthful, if perhaps uncomfortable, presentation of his family history in connection with an accurate report on a subject of public concern.”
Attorneys for C-VILLE and Schmidt characterized the lawsuit as a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), and ACLU attorney Eden Heilman, representing Schmidt, warned of the “chilling effect” that such lawsuits could have on public discussion.
Before giving his decision, Judge Worrell noted that the “political discourse has gotten pretty rough and tumble” and that it “requires all of us to have a pretty thick skin,” except if one has been defamed or libeled. He went on to declare that neither Schmidt’s statements nor C-VILLE’s story as a whole were defamatory or libelous.
The ruling means the case is dismissed and will not go to trial.
Quote of the week
“It’s both the right and the smart thing to do.” —UVA President Jim Ryan on the university’s decision to expand its living wage plan to include contracted employees.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held oral arguments on October 29th on a case to block Dominion Energy from placing a 54,000-horsepower compressor station, fueled by fracked methane gas, in the historically black community of Union Hill in Buckingham County. The Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board—comprised of members appointed by Gov. Ralph Northam, who owns stock in Dominion—issued a permit for the facility in January, inspiring uproar over what supporters call environmental racism.
The City of Charlottesville has purchased 142 acres of land adjoining the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, which will be used for trails, environmental education programs, and forest protection, the city announced last week. The city paid $600,000 for the property, most of which was covered by a federal Community Forest Grant, and landowner Louisa Heyward donated the remaining value of the property (roughly $500,000).
For “both budgetary and environmental reasons,” the City of Charlottesville is swapping bagged leaf collection service for vacuum trucks. Starting October 28th, residents can rake their loose leaves to the curb for collection three times a season. Those who insist on bagging leaves can bring them to 1505 Avon Street Extended on Saturdays from 8am-1pm.
UVA announced on October 24 that its major contractors will be paying their full-time workers at least $15 an hour, fulfilling a promise UVA President Jim Ryan made when he raised pay for all full-time UVA employees. The new policy will lift the wages of more than 800 workers, including food service and janitorial staff, and will go into effect January 1.
Showing the receipts
Days after city residents at the October 21st City Council meeting expressed the need for policy transparency, Mayor Nikuyah Walker has announced that the Charlottesville Police Department will post all policies and general orders to the city’s website, starting in January. At the meeting, speakers said the Police Civilian Review Board should be able to review all CPD policies. Council will vote on a proposed ordinance and bylaws for the CRB on November 4th.