No immediate decision on dismissing Lee monument lawsuit; judge expected to issue ruling within a week

Updated: Aug. 18, 2020 at 3:18 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A Richmond Circuit Court judge is expected to issue his decision within a week on a motion to dismiss the lawsuit trying to block the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue filed by several Monument Avenue residents.

At a motion hearing Tuesday afternoon, the judge heard arguments from attorney and former Republican Party of Virginia chair Patrick McSweeney who represents the five residents, along with attorneys for the Office of the Attorney General.

This is the third lawsuit brought on by Monument Avenue residents, and it argues that Gov. Ralph Northam exceeded his authority and violated the state constitution when he ordered the statue removed.

McSweeney argued the only power the Governor has is what is allowed by the Virginia Constitution and what the General Assembly gives him/her.

However, the defense counsel rebutted that argument, saying Northam was within his power to order the removal of the statue.

“There’s expressed statutory authority that the General Assembly passed, signed into law, authorizing the Governor to make decisions on where to place this type of property,” said VA Attorney General Mark Herring. “He was acting clearly within the bounds of the General Assembly’s past law, duly adopted law.”

The Monument Ave. residents also claim the removal of the statue would have negative repercussions.

“The injury to Plaintiffs that would result from the removal of the Lee Monument will be direct, particularized and clearly foreseeable,” McSweeney wrote in opposition of the AG’s motion. “Even if there were no delisting of the Monument Avenue Historic District, Plaintiffs have alleged injury, including the immediate loss of the internationally recognized sculpture from their neighborhood and diminution in the value of their properties.”

The defense called that argument “speculative”.

Through a series of deeds back in the late 1880s, the land now known as the Lee Circle was issued to the state through a joint resolution.

McSweeney claimed the verbiage used in those documents prevents the removal of the statue.

However, attorneys for the Office of the Attorney General refuted that claim, stating those documents should not bind the Commonwealth from future decisions.

“People could not put some flowery language into a deed 130 years ago and force Virginia to live with a monument to white supremacy today and on into perpetuity,” Herring said. “That certainly cannot be the law.”

The judge is expected to issue a ruling within a week. That decision will come in the form of a dismissal or the lawsuit proceeding to trial.

At this point a potential trial date has not been set. Herring said he would like to hold the trial as soon as possible but feels the plaintiffs are attempting to drag out the legal process.

McSweeney declined to comment on Tuesday’s motion hearing and the lawsuit in general.

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