Judge hears four hours of arguments in lawsuit on statues

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Arguments continued on Wednesday in a lawsuit seeking to prevent Charlottesville from removing two statues of Confederate leaders.

The lawsuit was brought by the nonprofit Monument Fund, and other groups, in March 2017, not long after the Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from a downtown park.

The suit names individual city council members as defendants, in addition to the city of Charlottesville and the city council as a whole. Both sides met outside of court in February seeking to reach a settlement, but that effort failed.

Judge Richard Moore considered several motions during Wednesday's hearing but made no final decisions.

Most of the discussion dealt with whether city council members could be held liable for damages if the lawsuit determines that their vote to remove the Lee and Stonewall Jackson statues violated state law.

The plaintiffs argue that council members should have to pay for the tarps they ordered put over the statues following the violence of Aug. 12. They also said the defendants should be liable for the taxpayer cost of maintaining the tarps, and the attorney fees of those who brought the lawsuit to stop the removal of the statues.

Attorneys representing council members said the statues were not damaged by the tarps, and the tarps have since been removed. They said plaintiffs have not adequately explained what damages they are seeking, since the statues were never actually removed or damaged.

Moore said he agreed with the defense on that issue.

Attorneys also discussed whether council members showed gross negligence in their vote to remove the statues.

Defense attorneys said this lawsuit, despite two years of arguments, has still not resolved whether the vote was illegal, so council members could not be expected to know for sure in 2017 whether the vote was allowed.

They also argued that council members were simply making a vote and that they should be allowed to make decisions without fears of monetary damages.

Toward the end of the nearly four-hour hearing, attorneys from both sides started bickering about a lack of communication between both sides.

That prompted Moore to say, "this case has gone on a long time and sometimes patience and tempers wear thin."

The trial is scheduled for September.

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