Virginia is unusual in that its law prohibits local authorities from removing a monument to a war veteran once erected. They cannot "disturb or interfere" with it; nor "prevent its citizens from taking proper measures and exercising proper means for the protection, preservation and care of same." The statute is found at Va. Code §15.2-1812 (prohibiting local authorities from disturbing monuments to war veterans).
An enforcement provision was added in 2000, Va. Code §15.2-1812.1(allowing any interested person to sue to recover damages for encroachments, in addition to any other legal remedies). There is also a criminal vandalism statute protecting monuments at Va. Code §18.2-137 (prohibiting defacing, damaging, or removing monuments).
A group of local citizens created the Monument Fund, Inc. to challenge any attempt by the city to move or alter or disturb or encroach upon either monument. We have been successful in raising funds not only in the Charlottesvile-Albemarle area, but from contributors all over the country.
A team of seven lawyers went to work on the case.
On Monday, March 20, 2017, we filed the lawsuit in Charlottesville Circuit Court, charging the city with acting unlawfully.
The Complaint charges the city with (1) violating Virginia’s monument protection law, (2) acting outside the authority delegated to them by the Virginia General Assembly and (3) violating the terms of Paul Goodloe McIntire’s gifts.
On May 2 Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Moore issued a six month temporary injunction against removing the Lee monument finding ”the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits.” He differed with and declined to follow a case which had held the law was not retroactive to monuments erected before a 1997 amendment.
The judge allowed the city to go forward with a contest on renaming parks and planning to reconfigure them, because “that can all be undone.”
The judge had carefully read voluminous pleadings and legal briefs beforehand, and then presided over a six hour hearing in which seven witnesses testified. The judge retired to his chambers, reflected on the evidence and arguments, and returned to rule from the bench. His decision was precise, thoughtful, and enjoined only what needed to be stopped immediately. One experienced and prominent lawyer called the judge's carefully tailored ruling "unassailable."
With Lee temporarily protected, the lawsuit will proceed to determine whether that protection will become permanent. The judge may also eventually determine whether changes proposed for the parks are a prohibited "disturbance" or "interference."
In short, it was a great opening number but the show's not over. Far from it. The parks and the monuments are still at risk.