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Judge Hears Arguments in Confederate Monuments Lawsuit

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

Judge Richard Moore listened to arguments on Monday, February 5, in a lawsuit fighting to retain the city’s Confederate monuments.

The hearing began in Charlottesville Circuit Court at 1 p.m. and was scheduled to last three hours, but it dragged on past 5 p.m. Part of that hold-up is due to some confusion over whether any decision made by the judge would be temporary or permanent. A final decision is being pushed to a couple of weeks from now.

The lawsuit was initially filed on March 20, 2017, by 11 individuals and two groups - the Monument Fund, Inc. and the Virginia Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. - against the city of Charlottesville.

The lawsuit initially argued that councilors violated a Virginia law that prohibits removing monuments or memorials to war veterans after council voted to remove the statues. Plaintiffs later successfully amended their lawsuit to also include the tarps, which council voted to shroud following the Unite the Right rally to mourn the lives lost during the day's violent events.

They are claiming City Council never got approval from the Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review to cover the statues. Citing a case out of Alabama, the plaintiffs want the tarps removed from the two statues, or for the city to pay a $25,000 fine for each day they stay.

On the other hand, the city says the coverings are temporary symbols of mourning that should stay up until at least the one-year anniversary of the rally on August 12.

On October 4, Judge Moore extended an injunction to keep the statues in place while the lawsuit goes through the courts. He'd previously ruled that Virginia code for war monuments does apply to Confederate statues, but that the plaintiffs’ complaint did not have sufficient facts to claim that the Lee statue is a war memorial.

Parties were scheduled to appear in court on December 6, but the date was pushed to February 5 because attorneys were able to sort through some of the wording of previous orders ahead of time.

Not long before Monday's scheduled court appearances, the shrouds covering the Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park and the Stonewall Jackson statue in Justice Park were removed.

According to Charlottesville police, the shrouds were removed overnight Saturday, February 3, into Sunday, leaving one of the tarps damaged. The shrouds were again removed on Sunday night. Police are investigating the incident and have set up overnight patrols in the parks. Parties found responsible could be charged with trespassing.

On Monday, Judge Moore heard from witnesses that include the Charlottesville City Manager and the director of the Monument Fund. Another hearing is now set for Tuesday, February 27, to hear the city's arguments to throw out the lawsuit about removing the statues.