Plaintiffs drop 1 lawsuit, file another over Lee statue


Workers for The Virginia Department of General Services install concrete barriers around the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue Wednesday, June 17, 2020, in Richmond, Va. The barriers are intended to protect the safety of demonstrators as well as the structure itself. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A group of property owners along Richmond’s famed Monument Avenue dropped one lawsuit and immediately replaced it with another on Thursday seeking to block the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, the group’s attorney said.

The six plaintiffs had initially filed a state lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court on Monday, but Attorney General Mark Herring moved it to federal court. In response, the plaintiffs dropped the lawsuit altogether on Thursday and filed a new, similar suit again in the state court, said Attorney Patrick McSweeney. A copy of the new state complaint was not immediately available.

The initial lawsuit challenged Gov. Ralph Northam’s authority to order the equestrian statue’s removal from its prominent place in the ex-capital of the Confederacy.

The plaintiffs also argued that removing the statue would strip a stretch of Monument Avenue of its current National Historic Landmark designation, resulting in “the loss of favorable tax treatment” and reduced property values.

Northam announced earlier this month that the statue would be taken down and moved to storage while his administration seeks public input on its future. He cited the pain gripping the country over the killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who pleaded for air as a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck.

Floyd’s death has sparked global protests that participants have vowed to turn into a sustained movement focused on addressing racial injustice and police brutality. It has also led to an intense reexamination of statues and monuments of historical figures around the world.

Herring, a Democrat like Northam, has pledged to defend Northam’s plans, calling the Lee statue a “divisive relic.”

The statue is one of five memorials to the Confederacy along Monument Avenue, and the only one on state property. The Richmond City Council has expressed unanimous support for removing the rest, which demonstrators have covered with graffiti in recent weeks.

A hearing is scheduled Thursday in Richmond Circuit Court in a separate state lawsuit over the Lee statue removal plans. A judge in that case has issued a temporary injunction preventing its removal.

McSweeney said he filed a motion to consolidate that case and his clients’.

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