Battle Over Prominent Robert E. Lee Statue Heads to Trial

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A lawsuit seeking to prevent Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration from removing an enormous statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee can proceed, a judge ruled Tuesday, clearing the way for a trial in the fall.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant rejected much of the state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a group of property owners along the residential boulevard where the statue is situated.

The decision delays Northam’s plan, which he announced in early June.

The statue, which sits on a state-owned parcel of land along Richmond’s historic Monument Avenue, was unveiled in May 1890 and is now covered in graffiti.

The plaintiffs argue that the governor does not have the authority to remove the statue and that doing so would violate restrictive covenants in deeds that transferred the statue, its pedestal and the land they sit on to the state.

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A trial on the remaining claims is expected Oct. 19, according to Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring’s office. Herring has vowed to continue the fight in court to see that the statue is removed.

“Attorney General Herring remains committed to ensuring this divisive and antiquated relic of a bygone era is removed as quickly as possible,” his spokeswoman Charlotte Gomer said in an email.

Patrick McSweeney, an attorney for the plaintiffs, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kat McNeal, a member of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, said she is confident the statue will eventually be removed.

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“It’s coming down, no matter what,” she said.

“This has been a longstanding issue in Richmond, especially for the black community. That statue is a slap in the face, it is a shrine to white supremacy, and it needs to come down and it will come down.”

The 21-foot-high equestrian statue, which the state has said weighs about 12 tons, sits atop a pedestal nearly twice as tall.

Four other prominent statues of Confederate leaders have been taken down from Richmond city property this summer.

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