CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- A Virginia judge dismissed an argument Monday that Charlottesville violated an open government law with its 2021 vote to give a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to an African American heritage center that plans to melt it down and turn it into a new piece of public art.
The Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation and the Ratcliffe Foundation are seeking an injunction to stop the statue’s destruction and relaunch the bidding process. The two organizations’ bids for the statue failed and the City Council voted to give the monument to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, a local Black history museum. A one-day bench trial is scheduled for Feb. 1.
An October gag order bars parties from disclosing the location of the statue, which was at the center of the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally. However, attorney Richard Milnor clarified at Monday’s hearing in Charlottesville Circuit Court that the statue that was taken down in July 2021 has not been melted down, just disassembled, The Daily Progress reported.
Judge Paul Peatross stood by his previous ruling that the Virginia Procurement Act gives the plaintiffs the ability to question the bidding process. Peatross also rejected the city’s argument that Virginia’s amended war memorial law prohibits private parties from suing governments that remove monuments.
“What’s the purpose of the statute if no one can challenge the actions?” Peatross asked Milnor. “Who can challenge?”
“No one,” answered Milnor.
“That’s my point,” said the judge.