RICHMOND, Va. -- A lawyer advising Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney about his legal power to remove the Confederate statues in the city said he believes "the city attorney is wrong" after the interim city attorney, Haskell Brown, told Council Wednesday he did not think the mayor could do so under the "emergency powers statutes" that he cited.
Jeffrey Breit with Breit Cantor sent CBS6 his legal opinion in an email after the mayor's spokesperson, Jim Nolan, provided his name as one of the lawyers advising the Mayor on the issue.
"The city adopted an Emergency Response Plan in accordance with 44-146.19 ( E) of the Code of Virginia .
The Governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency existed in the State of Virginia because of civil unrest in cities, including the city of Richmond. The City of Richmond declared a local emergency thereby activating the City Of Richmond’s Emergency Operations Plan. Section 44-146.21 ( C ) of the Code of Virginia and the City’s Emergency Operations Plan specifically authorizes the Director of Emergency Management to “ Protect the health and safety of person and property in such an Emergency . On June 8th the city council designated the Mayor as the person specifically to act in such an emergency . The nightly violence and protest at each Confederate statue since May 29,2020 has caused damage to the statues and has caused severe disruption around the fixtures . A person in Portsmouth was severely injured when a statue was pulled down during a protest . These statues have become a source of potential personal injury and property damage without question while they remain standing . Private property has been damaged in the area around these statues.
The emergency powers of the Mayor as the city designee in the face of a declared emergency allow and provide for the protection of these statues and the elimination of more damage to these statues and the protection and safety of others . His actions to remove and protect these statues does protect them as evidenced by last night’s lack of violence in and around the areas where a statue was removed and until such time as the city , after public comment, determines what to do with the statues (according to the new laws that went into affect on July 1 ) these statues will be stored safely ."
But, Breit's legal opinion contrasts with that of interim city attorney Haskell Brown who told council Wednesday "the emergency powers statues do not give the authority to remove, do not provide the mayor with authority to remove these statues, so obviously any action to do that incurs legal risk on the part of the people who will be removing the statues."
The mayor cited public safety concerns when he submitted a resolution Wednesday to temporarily remove and store Confederate statues until the City Council could hold a hearing and vote on the matter.
"Failing to remove the statues now poses a severe immediate and growing threat to public safety," Stoney said.
But during City Council's 11 a.m. meeting Wednesday, Brown said they were not permitted to vote on the resolution at that meeting because all 9 council members were not present and would need to call a special meeting with 24 hours notice to do so.
Council President Cynthia Newbille set up that special meeting, but shortly after the meeting the Stonewall Jackson statue was taken down, and on Thursday crews removed the Maury statue, so the special meeting was cancelled.
Councilwoman Kim Gray said at the meeting Wednesday that she supports removal, but wants to do it legally, and she said she's not in favor of ignoring laws.
The mayor reaffirmed his opinion Thursday that he has the right to remove the statues.