Virginia still can’t remove Robert E. Lee statue as Richmond judge decides to take lawsuit ‘under advisement’

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Richmond judge overseeing two cases challenging Gov. Ralph Northam’s authority to order the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from Monument Avenue decided not to make an immediate ruling in court Thursday, saying he would instead issue a written opinion.

The judge heard arguments in a lawsuit filed by William Gregory, who claims in court filings that his family once owned the land where the monument currently sits. His attorney, Joseph Blackburn Jr., argued in court that the governor lacked the power to establish public policy and that the state legislature had not voted on the matter.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring urged Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant to dismiss the lawsuit and dissolve the injunction preventing the state from taking down the monument. 

Marchant declined to make a ruling Thursday, saying the issue was of great importance and that he would provide a written opinion within a week. The judge also ruled that an injunction barring the state from taking down the statue should remain for at least another 30 days.

“I think it deserves a well-thought-out and well-reasoned written opinion,” Judge Marchant told the court.

An injunction barring the state from taking down the statue was granted by another judge in June, not long after the governor announced that he had instructed the Virginia Department of General Services to take it down as soon as possible.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge Bradley Cavedo granted a temporary injunction in early June and indefinitely extended it on June 18 after giving Gregory 21 days to amend the original lawsuit, which Cavedo called flawed. Cavedo recused himself from the lawsuit, saying that his home, which is located near the monument, could “create the appearance” of bias.

The amended suit, which was filed on July 9, claims that if the state fails to guard and protect the monument it violates provisions in deeds from 1890, 1887 and also the state constitution and law.

The complaint also states that if the injunction is lifted, the defendants in the case, Northam and Joseph Damico, the director of the state Department of General Services, “will be allowed to breach their legal and contractual obligations to the Plaintiffs with impunity.”

On Tuesday, an attorney representing a group of Monument Avenue property owners refiled a lawsuit after dropping a similar one before a court hearing last week. The plaintiffs in the complaint include longtime Monument Avenue resident Helen Marie Taylor, three other property owners and Evan Morgan Massey, a trustee of a property owner.

Judge Marchant also heard arguments in the most recent lawsuit from the residents, which seeks a temporary injunction to halt the monument’s removal, on Thursday. He declined to make a ruling on the injunction request, deciding to provide a written opinion on the matter as well.

Attorney General Herring’s office provided the following statement after the judge made his decision:

It is past time for this divisive, antiquated relic to come down. This grandiose monument to a racist insurrection stands on public land as a daily, painful reminder of Virginia’s past, but it does not represent who we are as a Commonwealth today or who we wish to be in the future. It was raised as part of a deliberate effort to intimidate and demean black Virginians and it should come down as part of a deliberate effort to heal, reconcile, and grow. I remain dedicated to ensuring the prompt removal of this statue so that our community can heal and move forward towards a more equitable future.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring

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