Councilors officially dismissed in monuments case

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Five current and former Charlottesville city councilors and their attorneys were officially dismissed from a lawsuit over two Confederate monuments at a motions hearing on Wednesday.

The ruling granting the councilors immunity leaves the City of Charlottesville as the sole defendant and removes the need for a jury trial in the case, but several other matters in it are still pending.

Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore must decide whether the city can defend the case based on the Equal Protection Clause.

At the hearing, the plaintiffs argued that the clause prohibits discriminatory government conduct and that the monuments simply existing in the downtown parks doesn't qualify as conduct. In other words, the plaintiffs said people don't have legal protection against being offended.

The city has filed a written response with the court on that subject and will make its oral argument later this month.

After the hearing, the plaintiffs' spokesman Charles “Buddy” Weber said his side knew holding councilors individually accountable for their vote would be difficult. He said it served a broader statewide purpose.

"It has alerted every city council, every board of supervisors and all the legislators in Richmond that there are exceptions to the legislative immunity statute, and they got to be careful about it," Weber said.

He also said the case is now more streamlined because the councilors were the ones asking for a jury trial. Now that they have been dismissed, that won't need to happen.

Former City Councilor Kristin Szakos and attorneys for the city declined to comment after the hearing.

The next hearing in the case is set for July 31.

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