Charlottesville asks judge to throw out Lee statue lawsuit

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- The City of Charlottesville is asking a judge to throw out the lawsuit filed over the future of the Robert E. Lee statue. The city is also asking for a judge to deny an injunction against Charlottesville.

A copy of the city's response is in the Related Documents box attached to this article.

Earlier this year, several city residents along with the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Monuments Fund Inc. sued the city, after the Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson statues.

The lawsuit claims Charlottesville is violating Virginia's monument protection law and violating the terms of Paul McIntire's gift when he gave the statue to the city in the 1920s.

With the lawsuit, the group also filed an injunction against the city, asking a judge to stop the city from doing anything to the statues until the lawsuit was resolved.

The suit is asking for $502,000 in damages.

Virginia Code 15.2-1812 says it is "unlawful for authorities of the locality, or any other person or persons, to disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials so erected" to commemorate a war.

Wars covered in the law include the French and Indian War, Civil War, Vietnam War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

On Monday, the city filed its response to the lawsuit, categorically denying the allegations in the suit and asking a judge to throw out both the injunction and the suit.

According to the city, the groups suing over the statue have no legal standing to do so because their rights are not being violated by Charlottesville's decision to move the statues.

In its response, Charlottesville argued the lawsuit failed to explain how the Lee and Jackson statues are memorials dedicated to the Civil War, and not the individual generals. It goes on to say that the Virginia monument law only applies to monuments dedicated to wars.

The city also argued the monument law was passed after the two statues were erected, and therefore does not apply in this instance.

Finally, the city stated that McIntire's gift only explicitly states that Lee Park should always remain a park and no building be erected on the site.

The city is asking a judge to throw out the injunction, claiming the harm of granting an injunction is greater to the city than the harm of denying the injunction is to the group suing.

But attorneys suing said the law interpretation will have to be resolved in a courtroom.

"We are alleging in our complaint that it is a war memorial that falls within the gambit of the statute," said Charles Weber, attorney suing the city. "That is the crux of our complaint, so whatever legal arguments we have to make to support that, we will make in court."

On Monday night, the city council voted to sell the Lee statue and crowdsource a new name for Lee Park.

"I believe this is one time when justice triumphs historic preservation," said City Councilor Kristin Szakos. "Just like would agree to tear down a historic home that is a danger to a neighborhood, I believe we should know allow for the removal of a statue whose message is offensive and negative to a principle our community holds dear."

But attorneys representing the city are more cautious about the next steps for the statue.

"My advice to City Council last night was that any agreement to sell, transfer or remove the Lee statue should be conditioned on receiving a favorable decision in the pending court case," said Craig Brown, Attorney for the City.

In response, the Monument Fund said it would not consider other options for the statues until the lawsuit filed against the city is resolved.

"The whole idea of selling the statue is a ludicrous as selling the Washington Monument, or any other monument, to lower the national debt," said a spokesperson for the Sons of Confederate Veterans Virginia Division. "It's ridiculous."

Republican gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart also weighed in on the issue.

"This is why I have made protecting Virginia's heritage and history a central theme of my campaign," Stewart said. '"This is why, as Governor, I will require Charlottesville to buy it back, and put it back."

A judge has scheduled a motions hearing on the injunction against the city for May 2 in Charlottesville Circuit Court.

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