Monument Avenue residents ask Virginia Supreme Court to overturn ruling rejecting effort to restore city’s monuments

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — As the legal effort to block the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue persists, those involved now seek to have the Virginia Supreme Court overrule a Richmond court’s decision to reject an injunction aimed to restore Confederate monuments removed off city property.

The plaintiffs, two Monument Avenue residents also named in the Lee case, filed a lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court in July to prevent the city from removing any additional Confederate statues and to have the monuments already hauled away to be restored “to their previous condition.” 

In a petition filed Wednesday, they called on the state’s highest court to reverse a Richmond judge’s decision to reject their effort. Like the lawsuit, the petition claimed Mayor Levar Stoney lacked the authority to order the removal of the monuments.

Stoney cited an emergency ordinance adopted by the Richmond City Council in response to the coronavirus pandemic and public safety concerns when he bypassed a 60-day removal process established by the state to have the first monument removed on July 1, the first day local governments had the authority to remove Confederate monuments.

City Council members voted to ratify Stoney’s move in August, initiating a 30-day period when the city will offer the monuments “to museums, historical societies, governments, or military battlefields.” By then, most of the monuments and relics of the Confederacy were taken down or removed from city property.

The petition argues that the judge acknowledged Stoney’s move was unlawful but still ruled against the plaintiffs. After the ruling, an independent investigation into Stoney’s handling of the contract for removal process was opened and remains active.

“The stated basis for the denial of the mandatory injunction was the circuit court’s speculation that City Council would simply vote again to authorize the removal, making the requested equitable relief a futility,” the petition states.

The attorney for the plaintiffs, Patrick McSweeney, assert in the petition there is legal precedent to have the statues restored, if the Supreme Court rules in their favor.

“There is a well-established principle of equity that restoration of the status quo ante is available as a remedy at the discretion of the court,” the petition contends.

Haskell C. Brown, III, Richmond’s interim city attorney, declined to comment Thursday, citing policy on pending litigation.

The high court agreed to hear the case from McSweeney’s clients seeking to prevent the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from Monument Avenue. Even though it’s in the city, the Lee monument is on state-owned property.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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