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Judge to rule on motion to dismiss Lee statue lawsuit 'within a week'

Garth Bowen, Elijah Bowen
Posted at 2:47 PM, Aug 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-18 18:22:15-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A judge has not immediately decided whether to dismiss a lawsuit challenging Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s plans to remove an enormous Richmond statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

An injunction currently prevents Northam’s administration from moving forward with plans to take down the bronze equestrian statue of Lee.

The lawsuit, filed by longtime Monument Avenue resident Helen Taylor, Evan Morgan Massey, Janet Heltzel, George D. Hostetler, and John-Lawrence Smith, argues that removing the monument could reduce property values, similar to their initial lawsuit.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is seeking to have the injunction lifted and lawsuit tossed.

On Tuesday, Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant said he would rule “within a week."

According to the 1890 land deed included as an exhibit in the plaintiff's lawsuit, the circle where the monument sits is “perpetually sacred” to memorializing Robert E. Lee, and the Commonwealth would “faithfully guard it and affectionately protect it.”

Solicitor General Toby Heytens argued that lawmakers in 1890 have no power to display a government-owned statues on government-owned land "forever."

"We as a Commonwealth can decide for ourselves now whether that is reflective of our values and it is not," Herring said after the hearing. "People could not put some flowery language into a deed 130 years ago and force Virginia to have to live with a monument to white supremacy today and on to perpetuity. That certainly cannot be the law."

The plaintiff's attorney, Patrick McSweeney, argued that the Executive branch has no power to give away an asset of the Commonwealth nor "does the Governor have the power to make this determination on his own."

"The plaintiffs were trying to say, 'Well, there’s no statutory authority.' There’s expressed statutory authority that the general assembly passed. It was signed into law authorizing the Governor where to place this type of property," Herring stated. "He was acting clearly within the bounds of the General Assembly’s passed law -- duly adopted law."

If Marchant declines to toss the lawsuit, Herring says a trial is expected in October.

McSweeney declined to comment after the hearing.

Northam announced plans to remove the statue in early June, citing the pain felt across the country about the death of George Floyd.

The Lee statue is the last remaining Confederate statue standing on Monument Avenue. The site has been the location of numerous Black Lives Matter protests and clashes with police for months.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.