Virginia judge rules Confederate statues in Charlottesville protected by state law

Virginia judge rules Confederate statues in Charlottesville protected by state law
In this Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, photo, a visitor eats lunch in front of a statue of Robert E. Lee that is surrounded by fencing and a No Trespassing sign in Charlottesville, Va., at the park that was the focus of the Unite the Right rally. (Source: AP Photo/Steve Helber)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (WCAV/Gray News) - In a lawsuit over removing Confederate statues from downtown Charlottesville, a judge has ruled the statues are war monuments, which are protected under state law, WCAV reports.

The ruling by Charlottesville Circuit Judge Richard Moore likely means the city doesn’t have the legal right to take the statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson down.

In his nine page ruling, Moore cites the fact that both Lee and Jackson are depicted in their military uniforms and on horses associated with their time in the Civil War.

“I believe that defendants have confused or conflated 1) what the statues are with 2) the intentions or motivations of some involved in erecting them, or the impact that they might have on some people and how they might make some people feel,” Moore writes. “But that does not change what they are.”

Moore finds the issue to be clear-cut.

“If the matter went to trial on this issue and a jury were to decide that they are not monuments or memorials to veterans of the Civil War, I would have to set such verdict aside as unreasonable,” he writes.

The lawsuit was filed after Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the statue of Lee in early 2017. City councilors Mike Signer, Kathy Galvin and Wes Bellamy are named individually for their roles in that vote, as are former councilors Bob Fenwick and Kristin Szakos.

In August 2017, the Unite the Right rally, a white nationalist gathering, was held to protest the removal of the statue. Counterprotester Heather Heyer died during the event when she was struck by a car driven by James Alex Fields Jr., 21, an avowed neo-Nazi, The Washington Post reports.

While legal analysts have said Moore’s ruling could sink the city’s defense, the judge notes that it doesn’t guarantee the plaintiffs will prevail. He still has several other motions under consideration.

Plaintiff spokesperson Buddy Weber says the plaintiffs are pleased but also cited the remaining motions as questions that still need to be answered.

In an email, city spokesperson Brian Wheeler says the judge now has to decide whether the city has to pay damages and attorneys fees and whether that question will go to trial in September.

In his ruling, Moore writes that he hopes to rule on remaining motions in the next month.

A hearing in the case is set for Wednesday.

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