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UVA Law Professor: Lee Statue Can Come Down Legally

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

A law professor says he has found a way for the Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park to come down legally.

University of Virginia Professor Rich Schragger has spent time studying the Virginia law on war memorials. He believes it does not apply to the Lee statue, and the location of the statue may not even be legal.

"I teach my students to be very careful when they’re reading statutes,” Schragger said.

The professor has a careful eye for rules and law. He said paying attention is what led to a discovery about the statue of the Confederate general.

"The Lee statue authorized and accepted in 1924 under a different grant of authority is grandfathered in. So the 1997 statute doesn't apply,” Schragger said.

The 1997 law on war memorials is at the heart of the debate as to whether Charlottesville can remove statues. That law was originally created in 1904 and only applied to counties.

Charlottesville accepted the Lee statue in 1924, 73 years before the law applied to cities.

"The existing monument statute did not authorize or restrain the city in 1924 when the statue went up. When the statute was amended to apply to cities in 1997 it had to apply going forward, not backward," Schragger said.

Schragger says that one tiny loophole could make the difference when a judge decides if the city has the right to move the statue, which may not even be in Charlottesville legally.

"My professional view is that cities should have authority to make decision about these kinds of things. It doesn't make sense to me for the state to make decisions about the monuments,” Schragger said.

Schragger says he has not done enough research on the Thomas Johnathan "Stonewall" Jackson statue in Justice Park yet to be certain, but believes the same loophole will apply to that one as well since the city unveiled it in 1921.