A prominent Unite the Right civil trial will remain in Charlottesville, despite requests from some defendants to change the venue.
Filed on behalf of various Charlottesville-area residents in 2017, the Sines v. Kessler lawsuit targets key organizers and participants of the deadly Aug. 12, 2017, rally.
Earlier this month, several defendants, including University of Virginia graduate and white supremacist Richard Spencer, urged the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia to move the trial outside of Charlottesville.
Currently scheduled to begin in October, the multi-week trial is the first of the civil challenges stemming from the rally to face a jury. Spencer and other defendants argued in part that, if the trial remained in the city, they would face safety risks.
Counsel for the plaintiffs balked at this claim, arguing in part that the venue was proper due to the large number of plaintiffs who live in or around Charlottesville. Additionally, the plaintiffs stood to lose around $100,000 if the trial were moved, due to hotel rooms and other pre-booked accommodations.
The plaintiffs also received support from the Charlottesville Clergy Collective, an interfaith group of more than a dozen local faith leaders, who wrote a letter to the court requesting that the trial remain local.
On Friday, Senior U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon issued a memorandum opinion that said the trial will remain in Charlottesville. The reasons for this decision were multitude, Moon wrote.
“Upon consideration of the parties’ arguments and submissions — and noting the parties’ pragmatic concessions limiting the number of parties and attorneys at trial and other steps reducing the footprint of the trial — the Court finds Charlottesville remains the proper and appropriate venue for trial,” Moon wrote.
Among the reasons for keeping the trial in Charlottesville, Moon wrote that he could not conclude that it would be proper to hold the trial in either Lynchburg or Roanoke because the action was not filed in either division and “it does not appear any defendant has resided in either division, and in any event, not all defendants reside in Virginia.”
Moon also wrote that the plaintiffs’ deference should be given higher weight, further supporting the venue remaining in Charlottesville.
“Plaintiffs’ chosen venue of Charlottesville has a substantial connection to the claims in this case,” Moon wrote. “And, for purposes of the pending venue motions, the record also shows that plaintiffs filed suit in Charlottesville — the division of the District where many of them lived and a number still live; where they worked and studied; and where they assert that they were injured.”
Citing other civil matters arising from the Unite the Right rally that were adjudicated — including cases filed by defendants Chris Cantwell and Jason Kessler — Moon wrote that the interests of justice support keeping the trial in Charlottesville.
“The Court finds that the interests of justice factor continues to support holding this trial in Charlottesville rather than transferring it, so that the trial may take place in the community most directly affected by the Unite the Right rally,” Moon wrote.
Following Moon’s opinion, Roberta Kaplan, chief counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a news release that she was pleased with the court’s decision.
“At the time nearly four years ago, all of our plaintiffs lived, worked or studied in Charlottesville, many still do, all of them still have friends and family in the Charlottesville area, and Charlottesville — of course — is where the relevant events took place,” Kaplan said. “We look forward to trying this case before a jury this fall.”
The trial is currently scheduled to begin Oct. 25.