CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Charlottesville is facing its first lawsuit over City Council's decision to move a statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee.

Councilors voted 3-2 on February 6 to move the statue of Lee out of Lee Park. They also unanimously voted to rename the park.

The lawsuit alleges councilors acted beyond their authority and violated a state law which prohibits removing monuments or memorials to war veterans.

Two groups - the Monument Fund, Inc. and the Virginia Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. – and 11 individuals - 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 Monday, March 20.

The lawsuit seeks a temporary injunction, asking the court to stop Charlottesville from removing the monuments to Lee and General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and prevent council from changing the parks. It alleges the statues are protected by state law: 

That the Lee statue and the Jackson statue are Confederate monuments and memorials of the War Between the States protected by the provisions of Section 15.2-1812 of the Code of Virginia, 1950, as amended.

The lawsuit also argues Charlottesville is violating terms of McIntire's gift in 1918 of the land for Lee Park and the statue:

"Defendants [Charlottesville City Council] are required by law to protect and to preserve the aforesaid historic monuments."

The city dedicated the statue of Lee 93 years ago this May. Descendants of its donor, Paul Goodloe McIntire, and sculptor are part of the lawsuit against Charlottesville and City Council.

Attorney Charles L. Weber Jr., says he joined the suit in order to protect history and the law. “I believe that our history is what it is. We don't change it. We have to deal with it, and we have to come together to deal with it."

Don Gathers chaired the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Monuments and Public Spaces, which spent months developing recommendations for the monuments of Lee and Jackson. “No one was trying to at all erase or eradicate history by simply moving the statue,” he said.

Gathers says the commission expected any decision would face a legal challenge. “The sooner we can get through this, the better off I think everyone will be, because then we can actually begin the healing process for our city.” 

The commission voted 6-3 back in November to let the statues stay in place.

The city and councilors have 21 days to respond to the lawsuit. The city says it does not comment on active litigation.