Group fighting to keep Robert E. Lee statue up in Richmond asks Va. Supreme Court to deny briefs filed by residents seeking its removal

Richmond

Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond on Jul. 28, 2020. (Photo Emma North 8News)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Monument Avenue residents fighting to keep the Robert E. Lee statue on its pedestal in Richmond are trying to get the Supreme Court of Virginia to deny court filings from city residents pushing for its removal.

Several groups of Richmond residents, including one made up of more than 50 residents claiming to own 95% of the homes within direct lines of sight to the monument, filed proposed amicus briefs on Monday in support of an effort from Virginia’s attorney general to have the Lee statue taken down immediately.

That group, known as the Circle Neighbors, notes in their filing that the arguments in the two lawsuits keeping the statue up lack standing and that similar cases across the country have almost unanimously been dismissed. 

“We looked at other similar cases around the country and every case except two lacked standing. Those two that did reach merit were dismissed anyway,” Greg Werkheiser, an attorney for Circle Neighbors and founding partner at Cultural Heritage Partners, said in an interview Wednesday. “We couldn’t find a single case across the country where these types of plaintiffs were successful.” 

Patrick McSweeney, the attorney for the plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits, said the residents in Circle Neighbors should not be allowed to submit an amicus brief — a filing that brings forward relevant information to the court that had not been presented by the parties involved – after missing their opportunity to take part in the case.  

McSweeney said the briefs presented claims that were not unique and should not be considered. He faulted the nearby residents of Circle Neighbors for not taking action earlier. “They should have been in there early on,” he said in an interview. “Can’t do that now.”

McSweeney filed a reply to the proposed amicus briefs on Wednesday requesting that the Supreme Court deny all of them, laying out reasons against each effort. 

“The Circle Neighbors do have a greater interest in the outcome of this case than members of the general public. In fact, they have a sufficient interest that they were entitled to intervene and become parties, but they failed to exercise their opportunity to move to intervene in this case,” he wrote in the reply. “Permitting them to bypass discovery and trial, by introducing evidence of alleged facts concerning the potential injuries to Appellants resulting from the removal of the Lee Monument through an amicus brief, would be harmful to the administration of justice.”

There were nine motions submitted for the high court’s consideration and in support of a brief from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Monday aiming to have the injunction blocking the Lee statue’s removal dissolved. 

“The Lee statue has held a place of prominence in the capital of Virginia, sending a message of white supremacy and division, for far too long and it is time for it to come down,” Herring said in a statement. “The continued obstruction that has so far prohibited the Commonwealth from exercising its right to remove state-owned property must stop.”

Two lawsuits seeking to prevent the state from removing the Lee statue succeeded in delaying the process, but both were rejected in Richmond Circuit Court. After ruling in favor of the state in late October, Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant dissolved the restraining order that had blocked the statue’s removal.

Marchant suspended his order until after the resolution of an appeal, prompting Herring to file a motion for reconsideration arguing the court lacked the authority to stop the state from removing the Confederate monument without another injunction request from the plaintiffs.

In response, Marchant issued an amended order that restored the temporary injunction from August during the appeal process.

Days after the appeals were submitted, Herring formally asked the state’s Supreme Court to strike down both efforts but the court ruled it would hear oral arguments. This came around the same time the state put a fence around the Confederate statue.

Virginia’s Department of General Services said the barrier was put around the monument to “ensure the safety of visitors and workers as part of DGS’s plan to prepare the site for the removal of the Lee statue.”

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