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AG Herring Argues Ruling Cleared Lee Statue Removal

statue
Close-up of Robert E. Lee statue. (PhotoEli Christman / CC BY 2.0)

Attorney General Mark Herring is challenging a judge’s order that bars the state from removing the statue of Robert E. Lee.

Judge W. Reilly Marchant ruled in the state’s favor on Tuesday, giving Gov. Ralph Northam the authority to take it down. But the Richmond residents who filed the lawsuit to protect the statue have notified the Supreme Court of Virginia that they plan to appeal that ruling. So the statue will remain on its pedestal for now. 

Herring celebrated the state’s victory in this case but has asked the judge to drop the waiting period

“Defendants respectfully urge the Court to reconsider that part of the decision,” the filing said. “Plaintiffs have no right to an injunction to forestall executive action that breaks no law and contravenes no rights…” 

Herring argues the Court is not allowed to stop the state from removing the statue after ruling that the Commonwealth had won the case.

“There are extremely technical issues involved here about how to move forward in the case and have it resolved expeditiously,” said University of Richmond Law professor Carl Tobias. 

“Herring and the governor, I assume, want to move as quickly as possible to remove the monument,” Tobias said. “And it could take a while for this appeal to go forward.”

But the appeal has yet to be officially filed, and it’s unclear if justices wish to hear the case at all. 

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Friday that a group of about 50 Monument Avenue residents, who call themselves Circle Neighbors, are filing a brief with the Virginia Supreme Court in support of the state and the statue’s removal. 

Their attorney, Greg Werkheiser with Cultural Heritage Partners LLC, said the residents vastly outnumber the plaintiffs in the case and some have lived there for nearly 50 years. 

“These are not just any residents. These are the ones who, when they walk out their front door in the morning, there is the Lee Monument,” he said.

“Let us all move forward,” said Monument Avenue resident Alice Massie in a statement. “It is time to move beyond angry litigation and let this circle become something fully and refreshingly new.”

Another neighbor, Coleen Butler Rodriguez, said, “Richmond has an opportunity and an obligation to be the city where healing begins and moving the Lee statue is an important way to advance that hard work.”

The fight over the 130-year-old statue has been a long and winding legal battle that began when Northam ordered its removal in early June, days after Black Lives Matter protests began in Richmond. 

A descendant of the family who gave the statue to the state sued Northam to stop its removal. In response to that complaint, Judge Bradley Cavedo issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the governor from taking down the statue until the case was resolved. Judge Cavedo later recused himself from the case because he lives in the neighborhood. 

That lawsuit was tossed out, and a new complaint was filed by five Monument Avenue residents.