The trial to determine the fate of Charlottesville’s statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee has been postponed.
A one-day bench trial had been scheduled for Wednesday, but according to multiple sources the city’s attorney Richard Milnor has fallen ill. The trial now is scheduled for Feb. 16.
“We are obviously disappointed that the trial won’t take place tomorrow,” attorney Christopher R. Tate said in a statement on Tuesday. “But an attorney is presently unwell and couldn’t participate. These things happen. We’ve been lucky enough to reschedule the case for the 16th of this month, and we’ll be ready for trial then.”
Tate represents the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, the group the city gave the statue to in 2021, after it became a lightning rod for controversy when a series of efforts to have it removed in 2017 attracted the ire of white nationalists. The Unite the Right rally-turned-riot that year left one woman dead and led to the ultimate removal of all of the city’s Confederate statues.
The Jefferson School has promised to melt down the Lee monument and use the bronze for another art installation, under its Swords Into Plowshares initiative.
But two would-be bidders on the statue, the Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation and the Ratcliffe Foundation, have filed suit to stop that from happening. They have argued that the gift to the Jefferson School was illegal and that the bidding process violated state and local policies.
The Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation of nearby Louisa County is an organization dedicated to preserving its namesake battlefield, the largest all-cavalry Civil War battle site in America.
The Ratcliffe Foundation of Tazewell County is a private organization that owns and maintains the Historic Ellenbrook Museum, which was the home of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart.
The two groups have filed an injunction to stop the statue’s destruction and relaunch the bid process.
Recent legal filings indicate both sides in the case have accused the other of misconduct. The city’s defense lawyer 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.
Tate said in his statement that the Jefferson School is ready to clear the air as soon as a trial can get underway.
“We’re prepared to tell the Court the true story of what happened with the City’s removal process and its donation to the Center, and we’re confident that we’ll prevail once we’ve told it,” he said.
Supporters of the Swords Into Plowshares program, who had planned a rally in front of the courthouse on Wednesday, also have rescheduled.
A new rally has been set for 9 a.m. on Feb. 16 in front of the Charlottesville courthouse at 315 E. High St.
For now, the statue of Lee remains in storage at an undisclosed location. A gag order signed in October prevents parties involved in the case from disclosing its exact location.
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