CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- A judge has ruled that the City of Charlottesville won’t pay financial damages to plaintiffs in the Confederate monuments lawsuit but will have to pay attorneys fees and litigation costs.
Photo: Cville dog / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0
The rulings came on the final day of a three-day trial in Charlottesville Circuit Court.
Several plaintiffs had argued they deserved $500 each in damages for the pain caused by seeing the statues covered in the wake of the violence during the Unite the Right rally in 2017.
City councilors initially said the city was covering the statues in shrouds in mourning for Heather Heyer, who was killed in a car attack near the Downtown Mall on Aug. 12, 2017. However, no end date was ever set, and the tarps were removed and replaced multiple times over the span of several months.
Judge Richard Moore said covering the monuments with tarps did cause the plaintiffs emotional distress, but since neither the statues nor the plaintiffs were physically harmed, he ruled that the law didn't allow for financial damages.
Moore did rule that the plaintiffs are entitled to attorneys fees and litigation costs.
The plaintiffs requested $604,000 to cover multiple attorneys, support staff and litigation costs including transcripts of hearings during the two-and-a-half years the case has been active.
In a closing argument, plaintiffs' attorney Ralph Main said the request is a reasonable amount for such a complex and lengthy case.
"It has all been towards the ultimate goal which is to save the monuments,” he said.
City Attorney Lisa Robertson argued that the plaintiffs weren’t entitled to any attorneys fees under state law. She said that was in part because the plaintiffs didn’t keep specific enough records about their billing hours.
Robertson also objected to the plaintiffs paying a constitutional law scholar $700 per hour during their trial preparations.
Moore ruled that the plaintiffs did prevail in the key parts of the case, so they are entitled to attorneys fees and costs under state law.
He said he would likely reduce the amount at least somewhat from the $600,000 request. But he also cited the length and complexity of the case and said the fact the Charlottesville City Council was aware that a vote to remove the Lee statue violated state law would also influence his award.
After Moore issued his rulings, plaintiffs' spokesperson Charles “Buddy” Weber said the plaintiffs are pleased.
“Overall, very happy,” he said. "I think the judge made a very, very strong case for a substantial portion of what we asked for. He recognized that he has never seen a case this complex that has taken this long.”
Robertson declined to comment.
Moore said he will rule on a specific amount to award in attorneys fees in the near future and will announce that in a letter.
Closing arguments are underway in a trial concerning a city vote to remove two Confederate statues.
In Charlottesville, the trial is set to end Friday with a judge deciding if the city will pay damages and attorneys fees.
The plaintiffs are asking for $500 each and more than $600,000 in attorneys fees, saying the attorneys' fees are part of the damages suffered by the plaintiffs since the lawsuit was filed in 2017.
However, the city has argued the plaintiffs don't quality for damages because the statues were not physically harmed, the tarps have been removed and the court has ruled the statues must stay in place.
The judge is expected to issue his ruling on damages shortly, and then both sides will make their arguments regarding the attorneys' fees.