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Judge to order city to pay $365k to cover plaintiffs' lawyers in statue case

A Charlottesville Circuit Court judge wrote this week that he will award more than $300,000 in attorneys’ fees to the plaintiffs in a lawsuit over Charlottesville City Council’s 2016 and 2017 votes to remove two downtown statues of Confederate generals. Judge Richard E. Moore wrote in a Jan. 21 letter that he will expects to enter an order March 1 that will give the city 90 days to either pay $365,430.60 plus a service fee to the plaintiffs in full, or in monthly installments of $73,886.12.

In September, Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard E. Moore ruled largely in favor of the plaintiffs in the suit, ruling that City Council operated contrary to the law when they voted in 2016 to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and in 2017 to remove a statue of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

The lawsuit, initially filed in March, 2017, targeted the city as well as the City Council and individual councilors, arguing they violated a state code section preventing localities from removing or altering war monuments.

Following the three-day trial In September, Moore issued a permanent injunction against the removal of the statues and ruled that though he did not find that plaintiffs were entitled to damages, they were entitled to attorneys fees.

In the letter obtained by The Daily Progress, Moore outlined his reasoning for the award, which is roughly two-thirds of the approximately $604,000 the plaintiffs had argued for.

Moore wrote that the provision allowing citizens to sue the locality for encroaching on war monuments only allows for the prevailing party to be awarded fees if they are the party that brought the action.

“Clearly it was the intent of the General Assembly to encourage citizens (and minimize the disincentive of litigation costs) to act on this authority not only by having their attorney’s fees covered if they prevailed, but also by declaring them not responsible for the other side’s attorney’s fees even if they failed,” Moore wrote.

Having found in favor of the plaintiffs, Moore said his next task was determining the reasonable fees to award for such a complicated and lengthy case.

Due to the extensive efforts from the plaintiffs’ attorneys — which was largely done by two attorneys and one paralegal — Moore said he found the pay rates they argued for to be warranted.

Additionally, Moore said that while he did not find the City Council to be grossly negligent, he could not find that they were unaware of the legal uncertainty of their actions and the potential financial costs.

“They were on notice of the provision that would require the City to be responsible for attorney’s fees if Plaintiffs were to prevail,” Moore wrote. “That was not hidden from them. This was a risk they were willing to take and thus put in jeopardy public funds for this purpose.”

Moore wrote that the subtractions from the requested fees came largely from issues in the case in which he did not rule in favor of the plaintiffs, and on and some administrative work, among other things.

While Moore’s order is expected to be entered soon, it remains unclear how the case will proceed following an October vote by the City Council to appeal the case.

Further complicating matters, Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, and Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, have filed legislation to change the monuments statute, potentially allowing localities to remove monuments. The bills have received widespread support from Democrats, who now hold the majority in the General Assembly, and are expected to discuss the legislation in subcommittee hearings on Friday and Monday.


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