Virginia ACLU says free speech is at stake in defamation lawsuit

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RICHMOND, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- The Virginia American Civil Liberties Union is weighing in on a defamation lawsuit filed against local activist Dr. Jalane Schmidt.

The University of Virginia professor was interviewed for a story in the C-VILLE Weekly about the plaintiffs in the lawsuit they filed against the city of Charlottesville for its attempts to get rid of two Confederate monuments in downtown parks.

Edward Tayloe II says Schmidt defamed him with a quote about him.

The ACLU of Virginia's Executive Director Claire G. Gastañaga disagrees and is seeking to get the suit dismissed.

"The ACLU has a long national policy of disfavoring defamation actions being frankly at odds with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. We are always concerned when people seek to invoke the courts as a way to keep people from speaking, which is what this case is about. And opinions by definition are not defamatory," she said.

The Virginia ACLU also argues that Tayloe failed to show that Schmidt made her comment with actual malice, which is a legal standard for defamation.

C-VILLE Weekly newspaper and reporter Lisa Provence have also been sued by Tayloe over that story. Their Washington, D.C.-based attorneys, Jay Ward Brown and Mara Gassman, have now filed a response to the lawsuit, calling it "harassment litigation" and asking for it to be dismissed.

The defense writes that the facts in the C-VILLE Weekly story are accurate. They say Tayloe can't show the article defames him by implying he's a racist. And they say the opinions expressed in the article are not defamatory.

They ask the court to award attorneys fees and costs.

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