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Fate of Charlottesville statues still awaits court decisions
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Fate of Charlottesville statues still awaits court decisions

Lee statue

Charlottesville’s statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is seen covered in red paint in June 2020.

As Richmond removed several Confederate monuments this week, Charlottesville officials say they are prevented from doing the same until the Supreme Court of Virginia determines whether it will hear an appeal of a 2017 lawsuit.

Last month, the prevailing plaintiffs in a lawsuit over two Charlottesville City Council votes to remove downtown statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson ceded to a new law that went into effect Wednesday, asking to partially dissolve a previously granted injunction preventing the removal of the statues.

The new law allows localities to remove war monuments, a power previously not allowed in the Dillon Rule-governed commonwealth.

Counsel for the plaintiffs wrote that they did not wish to extend the lawsuit and wished to change the language of a permanent injunction to match the new law, presumably paving the way for Charlottesville to begin the removal process as dictated by the legislation.

However, in a motion filed June 26, City Attorney John Blair argues that the Charlottesville Circuit Court is without the authority to issue a permanent injunction, given the new law, and therefore cannot partially dissolve or alter the injunction.

“New legislation enacted by the General Assembly expressly grants to every locality the sole authority to determine the final disposition of a monument or memorial, after the locality has satisfied certain procedural requirements,” Blair wrote.

Indeed, the language in the law does give “sole authority to determine the final disposition of the monument or memorial,” indicating that the locality can grant possession of a statue to a private entity.

Per the law, this final disposition is granted after the locality publishes a notice of intent in a local newspaper, holds a public hearing in no less than 30 days and, for a 30-day period, offers the monument to “any museum, historical society, government or military battlefield.”

“In the meantime, the city plans to file a motion with the Virginia Supreme Court asking it to completely dissolve the injunction,” reads a city release from June 26. “The partial dissolution, recently requested by the Payne v. Charlottesville case from the Charlottesville Circuit Court, seeks to extend the Circuit Court’s involvement rather than to allow the City to make discretionary decisions under the new law.”

It was not clear at press time if a motion with the state Supreme Court has been filed yet.

According to The Virginia Mercury, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney decided Wednesday he would not wait for the Richmond City Council to follow the 60-day process to remove the statues, citing danger to public safety, and ordered the ones on public city property to be removed.

In a response to the city of Charlottesville’s filing in Charlottesville Circuit Court, counsel for the plaintiffs in the statues case argued that the court decided “years ago” that it has jurisdiction to implement an injunction.

“The city objects to being told what it can and cannot legally do,” the response reads. “But that is what an injunction is for; the court construed the law and now the court can construe its amendment.”

Additionally, the response claims the plaintiffs’ motion does not intrude on the city’s sole authority to determine the final disposition of the monuments and instead confirms it.

“It expedites its exercise, while not exceeding that authority by altering or destroying the monument,” the response reads.

Both the city and the plaintiffs have requested that a decision be made without a hearing.

City officials previously have stated that as soon as the injunction is removed, they will begin the process to remove the statues.

The City Council’s next meeting is July 20; it is not clear if the issue of the statues’ removal or recontextualization will be on the agenda.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors began the process for a potential removal Wednesday, setting a public hearing on Aug. 6 to discuss the “Johnny Reb” statue situated in front of the Albemarle County Circuit Courthouse.

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