Confederate monuments trial gets underway in Charlottesville

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- A three-day trial has begun in a case involving a city decision to remove Confederate monuments from two city parks, and the day started with a victory for the plaintiffs.

Judge Richard Moore ruled that the monuments do not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Both the plaintiffs and the defense had asked the judge for summary judgment on the issue, and Moore sided with the plaintiffs.

He said an offensive message on its own is not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, and he ruled that the state law protecting the monuments isn't discriminatory because it protects all war memorials.

Earlier this year, the same judge ruled the monuments are war memorials and cannot be removed under existing state law.

Plaintiffs' spokesperson Charles "Buddy" Weber called the Equal Protection ruling a victory.

"Frankly, the rule of law has been vindicated here, which is what this case has been about for the last two years," he said. "I've spent two years appearing before you people trying to explain exactly what this case is about. Every time I've come here, I've said it's about the rule of law. The judge just vindicated the rule of law. So we're proud of our efforts here."

The judge still has two other issues to consider.

First, he must determine if there was any damage done to the statues when the city placed massive black tarps over them for several months.

Wednesday afternoon, plaintiffs testified about how they were affected by city council's vote to remove the statues and the subsequent covering, which lasted more than six months.

Plaintiff Fred Payne, an attorney whose office is adjacent to Court Square, said he was shocked when the city council passed a resolution to remove the statues.

He felt he was "living under the regime of a lawless group," he testified.

Ninety-four-year-old plaintiff Virginia Amiss described walking past both statues on her way to the McGuffey School when she was a child. Council's vote to remove them left her "horrified."

"I was just saddened to a degree I can't even express," she said.

Another plaintiff, Jock Yellott, wept on the stand describing his outrage over the city council's actions and the uproar that has followed.

"It infuriates me that people would slander General Lee," he said.

And plaintiff Frank Earnest estimated that the damage caused to him and his fellow Sons of Confederate Veterans by the covering of the monuments is far more than the $500 in damages officially being requested.

Ernest said he believed the damages should be $500 to $1,000 for each of the 3,000 members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. That would total between $1.5 and $3 million.

On Thursday, the trial testimony will turn to attorneys fees.

The plaintiffs' attorneys are asking for $604,000.

The trial is set to end on Friday.

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