Michael Bishop, the principal of a high school in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, sued Ryan Sawyers, the elected chairman of the Prince William County Board of Education, and two of Sawyers’ supporters, for defamation following a public campaign that resulted in Bishop having his contract as a school principal denied (although it was ultimately extended). A blogger using the sobriquet “Sheriff of Nottingham PWC,” took Bishop’s side and denounced Sawyers and, to some extent, Guy Morgan, who was a financial supporter of Sawyers. Morgan served a subpoena seeking to identify the Sheriff, admitting that Sheriff’s blog posts were not defamatory, but claiming that Morgan needs Sheriff’s testimony to show that Bishop’s reputation remains intact (and hence cannot claim defamation).
Representing the anonymous blogger, we moved to quash the subpoena. After a hearing, a Prince William County circuit court judge granted our motion. The judge likened Sheriff to “the town crier” of the founding era, explaining that Sheriff is exactly who the framers of the First Amendment would have sought to protect had the internet existed back then.