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City temporarily blocked from selling Lee statue

City temporarily blocked from selling Lee statue

Lee statue

The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville's Lee Park.

The city of Charlottesville will not be permitted to sell its statue of Robert E. Lee within the next six months.

Following the City Council’s vote in February to remove the statue, which a group of local residents and Confederate descendants have responded to with a lawsuit, a Charlottesville Circuit Court judge has temporarily denied them from doing so.

Although an injunction against the city was the only official ruling Tuesday, Judge Richard E. Moore also said he believes the statue is protected by state law.

Among several arguments, the plaintiffs — a collection of local residents and the Virginia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans — allege the city’s vote to remove the statue violates a state law that protects war memorials.

“It’s offensive [to some people] because it’s clear that it’s a war memorial to the Confederacy,” Moore said Tuesday evening toward the end of a six-hour court hearing.

“It’s inescapable,” Moore added, contesting the defendants’ claims that the statue is not a protected war memorial.

“This case has always been about the rule of law,” said Ralph E. Main, legal counsel for the plaintiffs.

“The judge, in reaching his decision, he considered the monument statute and the protections which it affords, and decided the law does in fact apply to the situation we have here with regard to the monuments,” Main said.

“I think the message it sends to the community is that this is a case about the rule of law. We need to respect that.”

The judge, however, did not apply the injunction to the city’s plan to rename Lee and Jackson parks. The city also will not be barred from initiating a master planning process to redesign the two historical districts where the parks are located.

Last month, when the council voted to sell the Lee statue, the ordinance also included provisions to rename the two parks.

When the council voted to remove the statue, it held a separate vote to begin a master planning process for the two parks.

The council unanimously agreed to that plan, which also included the concept of building a new memorial in Jackson Park to those who were enslaved in the city.

“Renaming of the parks is not something the judge feels we don’t have a right to do. It was helpful to hear that,” Councilor Kristin Szakos said after Tuesday’s hearing.

City attorneys Craig Brown and Lisa Robertson, as well as Councilor Wes Bellamy, declined to comment after the hearing.

“It’s not a ruling yet, but the planning can go ahead for Jackson Park,” Szakos said. “And the removal of the Lee statue is just a temporary injunction, so for six months we can’t actually move it.”

The city is taking suggestions for new park names online. Names may be submitted at charlottesville.org.

The deadline to submit suggestions is May 10.

The council will consider several of the names at its June 5 meeting.

The two sides will meet again in court on June 19 to arrange the next hearing in the case.

Chris Suarez is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7274, csuarez@dailyprogress.com or @Suarez_CM  on Twitter.

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