The effort to melt down Charlottesville’s statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and construct new public art out of its remains is progressing despite legal challenges.
After several delays, a judge last Friday dismissed two of the three complaints in the lawsuit surrounding the disposition of the public art lodged by would-be bidders on the statue.
After Lee was removed in July 2021, in the wake of the fatal Unite the Right rally-turned-riot on Aug. 12, 2017, in downtown Charlottesville, City Council opted to give the statue to the local Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, which proposed the project to transform the bronze into something new, something meaningful and something far less controversial that a tribute to a slaveholder who led a rebellion against the United States. The group christened the project Swords Into Plowshares.
Two weeks after councilors agreed to give the statue to the Jefferson School in December 2021, the Ratcliffe Foundation of Tazewell and the Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation of Louisa County joined forces to sue, arguing the city had unlawfully overlooked their bids for the work of art.
Since then, the Ratcliffe Foundation has already had to drop out of the case against the city. Now, the court has determined that the complaints made by the remaining party, the Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation, regarding war memorials and public contracts lack standing.
A complaint alleging a violation of the Freedom of Information Act will proceed to trial, however.
Christopher Tate, the attorney representing the Jefferson School, expressed confidence regarding the disposition of the remaining charge, saying that his clients are not overly concerned. He said he believes that the court will ultimately rule in their favor.
"This decision is a major step forward in resolving this lamentable and baseless lawsuit," Tate said in a Monday statement. "With only a FOIA claim remaining in the case, we anticipate further motions will result in the dismissal of the Center as a party, and judgment in our favor. We look forward to making those arguments, and remain committed to the Swords into Plowshares project.”
Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook did not immediately return a request for comment from The Daily Progress.
The Ratcliffe Foundation, which had been the other plaintiff in the case, voluntarily withdrew its complaints in June after it was found it no longer legally existed due to not filing the correct paperwork.
The group said it had wanted to place Lee and other cast-off statues on a sprawling tract it owns in Russell County, near the southwest tip of Virginia, and establish a "Southwest Historic Monuments Trail."
Despite the foundations’ recent losses in court, legal analyst David Heilberg has cautioned that he is not convinced that the latest rulings have dealt a mortal blow to the litigation.
Heilberg told The Daily Progress in May that Virginia law allows a plaintiff to “nonsuit,” to dump its initial lawsuit when it hits a roadblock such as this and then refile it.
“As long as they haven’t nonsuited before, they can drop the entire lawsuit, and bring it back within six months,” Heilberg said. “But they only get to do that once.”