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Charlottesville statue trial moves forward as judge tosses artsy witnesses and one legal tactic

While the debate over the fate of Charlottesville’s statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee raged on in Charlottesville Circuit Court Monday, at least one argument was laid to rest.

The statue has not been melted down.

“It has not been melted down,” attorney Richard Milnor said at the late-afternoon hearing on Monday. “It has been disassembled.”

Milnor and others present Monday did not disclose where the disassembled statue is being kept. A gag order signed in October prevents parties in the case from disclosing its exact location.

The city is being sued by the Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation and the Ratcliffe Foundation, organizations which tried and failed to purchase the statue before the city gave the monument to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. The Jefferson School plans to melt down statue and use the bronze for future public art. The two plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to stop the statue’s destruction and relaunch the bid process, arguing the sale to the Jefferson School was illegal and the bidding process violated state and local policies.

Judge Paul Peatross on Monday dismissed one of those arguments, that the city violated open-government law when it took a vote shortly after midnight on Dec. 7, 2021, to give the statue — which had been removed five months earlier from what’s now called Market Street Park — to the Jefferson School.

However, Peatross stood by his previous ruling that green-lighted the case, that the Virginia Procurement Act gives the plaintiffs the ability to question the bidding process on the statue.

Peatross rejected the city’s argument that the amended state law on war memorials prohibits private parties from filing suit governments who remove monuments.

“What’s the purpose of the statute if no one can challenge the actions,” Peatross asked Milnor. “Who can challenge?”

“No one,” answered Milnor.

“That’s my point,” said the judge.

Peatross also rejected the foundations’ request to bring in statue, stone and metallurgical experts to testify at a trial next month. The experts were to testify on the challenge of reassembling the statue. Peatross said that testimony would be irrelevant before the case was decided.

Recent legal filings indicate both sides in the case have accused the other of misconduct. The city’s defense has accused a lawyer for the opposition of “uttering outright falsehoods,” and the plaintiffs have accused the other side of “spoliating” evidence, that is deliberately, negligently or accidentally destroying it.

A one-day bench trial on the matter is scheduled for Feb. 1.

The initial decision to remove the statue of Lee sparked the deadly white supremacist Unite The Right rally in August 2017, where anti-racism protester Heather Heyer was killed and dozens of other counter-protesters were seriously injured.


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