Plaintiffs in Statue Lawsuit Want Access to Emails, Texts from City Councilors
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The drawn-out battle over two statues of Confederate generals in Charlottesville went back to court for more legal wrangling Wednesday: This time, the focus is on the votes City Council made in 2017 to remove the monuments.
Judge Richard Moore recently ruled that both statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas Johnathan “Stonewall” Jackson are war memorials, and thus protect by a state code that prohibits localities from removing them. This decision marked a win for a group of plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Charlottesville, which was attempting to move the statues out of Market Street and Court Square parks.
“The recent ruling, you know, is likely going to be sufficient alone to get us a permanent injunction,” said Buddy Weber, plaintiffs’ attorney.
The legal fight shifted Wednesday, May 1, to which, if any, documents former and current councilors in the lawsuit will have to turn over. Specifically-named defendants are then-mayor Mike Signor, then-Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy, councilor Kathy Galvin, then-councilor Kristin Szakos, and then-councilor Bob Fenwick.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs claim those councilors were grossly negligent when they voted in 2017 to remove the monuments. City Council initially sought to remove just the Lee statue, later voting unanimously to also include the statue of Jackson.
The defense is arguing that councilors should be granted statutory immunity, which could bar them from having to give depositions or turn over emails and text messages.
“The question is, do we have access to and can we discover private and confidential communications going on among the councilors? Or between councilors, or members of the public? And whatever that might shed light on whether or not they were grossly negligent,” Weber said.
Plaintiffs believe that if they can get access to those materials, they will be able to prove the councilors do not qualify for immunity and could be individually liable for damages.
Judge Moore is delaying the turning over of this material until he has time to make a decision on the immunity claim.
The legal team representing the city and the councilors declined to comment Wednesday.
This case is set for trial in September, but Judge Moore acknowledged that they are behind schedule. Moore says if he dedicated every hour of every day to this case, it would take him three to four weeks to sort out everything he is working on right now for just this lawsuit.