Federal Court Hears Motions in Lawsuit Connected to Unite the Right Rally
A federal judge is weighing arguments to decide whether or not to toss out a case against Jason Kessler and 24 other defendants.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - A federal judge is weighing arguments to decide whether or not to toss out a case against Jason Eric Kessler and other defendants. They are accused of being behind a conspiracy to commit violence at the Unite the Right rally and a torch-lit white nationalist march at the University of Virginia.
Judge Norman Moon heard arguments Thursday, May 24, over a motion from the defense to dismiss the case.
“Motion to dismiss is about legal technicalities. There’s something to be said on both sides, but the judge, he took the argument seriously, and we got our points across. That's really all you can hope for,” said defense attorney Jim Kolenich.
Attorney Roberta Kaplan filed a civil suit on behalf of 11 plaintiffs back in October 2017. The lawsuit is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for those hurt in Charlottesville during incidents on August 11 and 12. There are now 10 plaintiffs listed.
Kaplan's lawsuit claims, "in countless posts on their own websites and social media, defendants and their co-conspirators promised that there would be violence in Charlottesville."
Defense attorneys were trying to convince Judge Moon during Thursday's motions that the plaintiffs have not provided enough evidence to prove a conspiracy to commit violence took place.
“There’s a conspiracy to do something, right, and it involves physically coming to Charlottesville, and we admit that for the purposes of this motion. But that’s not the same thing as admitting things down the line in the litigation,” Kolenich explained.
Kessler organized the Unite the Right rally at Emancipation Park, while Spencer and Cantwell were scheduled to speak at the event.
Kessler and Cantwell were also seen taking part in the white nationalist march at UVA the night before the rally. Cantwell is charged with illegal use of tear gas stemming from altercations between "alt-right" supporters and protesters around the UVA Rotunda.
Fields was seen participating in Kessler's rally with members of Vanguard America. He is accused of ramming a car into a group of people marching in the area of Water Street, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens.
Richard Wilson Preston, reportedly a member of the KKK, was found guilty for firing a shot near Emancipation Park on August 12. His defense claimed self-defense, but the commonwealth said Preston had no legal justification to fire a gun in a crowded area that day.
Kolenich, an attorney from Ohio who is representing a majority of the defendants, pleaded with the judge to not confuse conspiracy to attend the rallies with conspiracy to attend the rallies and commit violence. The main argument from the defense was that the plaintiffs have no direct evidence proving the violence that did occur on those two days was premeditated.
“There is violence that occurred, but they’re missing a step. They’re missing the conspiracy to commit that violence,” Kolenich said.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the violence was, in fact, premeditated and that the carrying of poles and mace proves that. They say the evidence they have presented so far is only the tip of the iceberg, and they believe there is much more they will find if this case continues.
"If you are in a conspiracy, you are responsible for events that are reasonably foreseeable. And so, you know, we believe we will find additional evidence that the defendants were part of a conspiracy to use violence and to intimidate," said plaintiff’s attorney Karen Dunn.
Judge Moon is expected to make a ruling on whether or not this case will move forward within the next 30 days.