City Council anticipates opposition over Lee statue removal

Lawsuit expected to be filed soon

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City Council voted to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from Lee Park.

Marshall Bronfin | Cavalier Daily

Following the 3-2 City Council decision to remove the Confederate statue of Robert E. Lee from Lee Park, several groups have expressed anger with the decision and city officials are anticipating a lawsuit may be filed challenging the decision.

Those opposing the decision claim it violates Virginia’s history and sections of the Virginia Code that protects war memorials from damage or removal.

“There will be the question of whether that law applies in this case,” City Attorney Craig Brown said. “That’s what we anticipate the basis of the lawsuit will be — that they will allege that City Council violated the state law that protects war memorials.”

City Council will not proceed with any plans for the statue’s removal until the end of a 60-day planning period following the vote, in which city staff will gather information regarding the logistics of removing and relocating the statue.

“But at that point [end of 60 days] we would start the process,” councilor Kristin Szakos said. “The only issue at that point might be if someone has filed a lawsuit then a judge would file an injunction saying we can’t move forward until they made a decision. So if there is no injunction, presumably we could go ahead.”

City officials are preparing for a lawsuit to be filed during the planning period. Elliot Harding, chairman of the Albemarle County Republican Committee and an attorney with Friends of C’ville Monuments, a group dedicated to preserving the city’s statues, said Friends of C’ville Monuments plans to be affiliated with the lawsuit when it is filed.

According to its website, Friends of C’ville Monuments is a trust meant to fund the defense of the city’s monuments “against threats and encroachments of any sort — litigating if necessary.” The trust is expected to dissolve after two years.

However, no specific group has come forward with a lawsuit yet.

Harding said the Albemarle County Republican Committee will not be bringing legal action.

“From what I have heard,” Brown said. “A suit will be filed in the near future before that 60 days is up.”

A similar case was heard in Danville, Va. in which the city removed a confederate flag from the city-owned Sutherlin Mansion — a decision that was upheld when the Virginia Supreme Court declined to review a lawsuit that was filed against the city. However, this does not spell a clear victory for the Charlottesville City Council.

“It can go any number of different ways,” councilor Bob Fenwick said. “Right now we’re in a strange position because there are cities around Virginia, and around the country, that are trying to deal with this and the legal situation is just unsettled. At this point it is hard to tell what will happen.”

City staff are also using the 60-day planning period to research what the cost of removing and relocating the statue might be, beginning with a ballpark number of $330,000 given by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces. The exact relocation space and method has yet to be decided on.

At the same meeting City Council voted to remove the statue, they also voted to rename Lee Park.

“If the statue leaves there isn’t really a point to have it named Lee park,” Fenwick said.

Currently no name has been announced to replace “Lee.” 

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