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Update: Judge Issues Temporary Injunction to Halt Lee Statue Removal

Posted: Updated: May 14, 2017 08:51 PM
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

A Charlottesville judge says a Confederate statue cannot be touched, for now.

Both sides battling it out over an injunction to stop the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue and renaming of the park its in were in court for hours Tuesday.

Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore took about 25 minutes to come to his decision. Both sides spent much of the afternoon debating state code.

The judge said he issued the six-month injunction to prevent City Council from removing the statue because irreparable harm could be done to the War memorial. But the judge said renaming the park isn't irreparable and can be done.

"That hearing really hasn't been held yet.  That's not a ruling.  That's just a statement.  So we haven't presented anything yet," Kristin Szakos, Charlottesville City Councilor, said.

"I think the message it sends to the community is that this is a case about the rule of law and we need to respect that," Ralph Main, plaintiff's attorney, said.

A court hearing is set for June 19. That's when both sides will pick another date to go over some motions in the case. The plaintiff's attorney said he doesn't know how long this case will eventually take.

A group of protesters gathered outside the courthouse around 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 2. The group chanted, “hey hey! Ho ho! White supremacy has got to go,” and “remove the statue and the hate. There’s no need to litigate.”

The plaintiffs – the Monument Fund, Inc., the Virginia Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans, Frederick W. Payne, John Bosley Yellott Jr., Edward D. Tayloe II, Betty Jane Franklin Phillips, Edward Bergen Fry, Virginia C. Amiss, Stefanie Marshall, Charles L. Weber Jr., Lloyd Thomas Smith Jr., Anthony M. Griffin, and Britton Franklin Earnest Sr. – filed their lawsuit in Charlottesville Circuit Court on March 20.

The city offered to let the Lee statue stay where it is for four months while the court tackles the issue. However, that proposal was rejected.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs presented witnesses as part of their argument that the Lee statue is a memorial to a military veteran. An expert on Confederate history, a librarian for the Historical Society, and a volunteer who helped to get the statue onto the National Historic Registry were all called to testify for the plaintiff.

Councilors voted 3-2 on February 6 to remove the Gen. Lee statue and rename Lee Park. Mayor Mike Signer and councilor Kathy Galvin voted against the measure. A similar vote on April 17 approved plans to sell the statue to an educational institution, museum, or nonprofit group.

Court documents filed in the past week claim removing the monument is an illegal use of taxpayer dollars.

The plaintiffs also believe Virginia's monument protection law forbids the city from moving through with City Council’s plans.

Charlottesville’s legal team claims the statue is not covered by that law, because it's unclear that it's a memorial to a veteran. The Lee statue does not contain any words that reference the Civil War, veterans, or the military.

Additionally, the lawsuit argues that if the city is allowed to move forward with removing the statue, then it would set off a series of events that cannot be undone.

The city denies that the plaintiffs or the public would suffer irreparable harm if the plans for the statue move forward.