RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Richmond judge ruled Tuesday to allow a lawsuit challenging Gov. Ralph Northam’s plans to remove the Robert E. Lee statue to proceed to court. A trial has been set for Oct. 19.
Lawsuits aimed at preventing the state from removing the Lee statue have been filed, dropped, amended and refiled since the governor announced that he had instructed the Virginia Department of General Services to take it down as soon as possible in early June.
Patrick McSweeney, the attorney representing a group of Monument Avenue property owners, refiled a lawsuit after dropping a similar one before a court hearing in July. The plaintiffs in the complaint included longtime Monument Avenue resident Helen Marie Taylor, three other property owners and Evan Morgan Massey, a trustee of a property owner.
The state filed a motion seeking to dismiss the lawsuit, which was mostly rejected by Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant on Tuesday. Marchant did, however, dismiss one count and two plaintiffs, including Taylor, from another claim in the lawsuit.
McSweeney told 8News on Tuesday that his clients have always conceded that the two plaintiffs could not assert the claim they were dismissed from and that it has no effect on the case.
Charlotte Gomer, a spokeswoman for Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, wrote in a release after Marchant’s decision that Herring “remains committed to ensuring this divisive and antiquated relic of a bygone era is removed as quickly as possible.”
The judge’s decision will push back the effort to take down the monument even further. The plan to remove the statue from Monument Avenue, which calls for the sculpture to be “partially disassembled” into three sections, has already been unanimously approved by a state review board.
The process would require two phases, one to take down the 13-ton sculpture and another to remove the monument’s pedestal, the conservator selected by the state, B.R. Howard Conservation, said in the plan. The firm writes that based on an on-site inspection, the sculpture can be taken from its base “as a single unit,” but would need to be disassembled to “meet the highway height restrictions” during transport.
“It is believed, based upon recent on-site observation of the monument and the review of written accounts which describe the assembly of the sculpture in 1890, that the bronze sculpture will be separated into three sections, cast base and legs of the horse, the body and head of the horse, and the figure, from the waist up,” the plan states.
Dena Potter, spokeswoman for the state Department of General Services, told 8News that the exact number of cuts required is still not clear and won’t be until the statue is removed from its pedestal.
This story is developing. Check back for updates.