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Lee Statue Lawsuit Dismissed, but Removal Still Barred

Crowd before Lee Statue
A crowd gathered in what's now known as Marcus-David Peters Circle, the area around the Lee statue on Monument Ave. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

A Richmond judge tossed out a lawsuit Monday challenging Gov. Ralph Northam’s authority to take down the Robert E. Lee statue. But the state is still barred from removing the monument because of a separate legal challenge from Monument Avenue residents.  

Northam announced plans to remove the statue in June, days after nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd came to Richmond. 

Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant dismissed the lawsuit and dissolved a temporary restraining order that kept the state from removing the Lee statue for the last two months.  That lawsuit was brought by a descendant of the family who gave the property to the state in 1890. The descendant, William Gregory, argued that the 19th-century deed says the state promised to protect and maintain Lee and the property it stands on. 

Marchant, however, issued a separate 90-day injunction in a complaint filed by property owners who live along the street where the statue stands.

The plaintiffs, in that case, are worried that removing the statue will “degrade” the historic district and decrease their property values. 

More than a dozen city-owned Confederate symbols have already been removed in Richmond.  Northam celebrated the dismissal in a statement. He said he looks forward to another victory in court. 

“This statue will come down—and Virginia will be better for it,” Northam said. 

A spokesperson for Attorney General Mark Herring said Herring is committed to ensuring the Lee statue comes down as well, calling it a “divisive, antiquated relic.”

Herring has filed a motion to dismiss the case.