Removal of Lee Statue Halted by Lawsuit

A group of property owners along Richmond’s famed Monument Avenue dropped one lawsuit and immediately replaced it with another on Wednesday seeking to block the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, an attorney for the group said.

The six plaintiffs had initially filed a state lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court on Monday, but Attorney General Mark Herring moved it to federal court. The plaintiffs then dropped the lawsuit altogether on Wednesday and filed a new, similar suit again in the state court, according to attorney Patrick McSweeney.

The complaint challenges Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s authority to order the statue’s removal from its prominent place in the ex-capital of the Confederacy.

It argues that doing so would violate the terms of the deed conveying the statue, an 1889 legislative provision and state laws.

It also says removing the statue would strip a stretch of Monument Avenue of its current National Historic Landmark designation.

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Northam announced earlier this month that the statue would be taken down and moved to storage while his administration seeks public input on its future.

He cited the unrest gripping the country over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Floyd’s death has sparked global protests and riots. It has also led to the removal and vandalism of statues and monuments of historical figures around the world.

The governor has repeatedly said he’s confident in his authority to remove the statue. Herring, a Democrat, has pledged to defend Northam’s plans, calling the Lee statue a “divisive relic.”

The statue is one of five memorials to the Confederacy along Monument Avenue and the only one on state property.

The Richmond City Council has expressed unanimous support for removing the rest, which have been covered with graffiti in recent weeks.

A hearing is scheduled Thursday in Richmond Circuit Court in a separate state lawsuit over the Lee statue removal plans. A judge in that case has issued a temporary injunction preventing its removal.

McSweeney said he filed a motion to consolidate that case and his clients’.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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