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UPDATE: Lawsuit seeks to halt Stoney from removing Richmond's Confederate iconography; heritage group wants statues

UPDATE: Lawsuit seeks to halt Stoney from removing Richmond's Confederate iconography; heritage group wants statues

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Workers removed the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument Wednesday at Libby Hill Park in the city’s Church Hill neighborhood.

Statue to Stonewall Jackson removed from Monument Ave.

TIMELAPSE: Stuart Monument: Gone in 39 Seconds.s.

As Confederate monuments come down in Richmond, an anonymous person is seeking to block Mayor Levar Stoney from removing the statues.

An unnamed party filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Richmond Circuit Court, claiming Stoney violated state law in ordering the immediate removal of the statues beginning last week. The suit is asking for an emergency injunction to halt removal of the statues that, in a separate announcement Wednesday, a Confederate heritage group said it wants to take off the city’s hands.

“Every day we delay, another monument comes down,” said James B. Thomas, an attorney based in Bedford, Va. for the unnamed plaintiff who brought the suit.

The complaint requests, among other things, that a judge bar Stoney from ordering or authorizing any further removals. A hearing has not yet been scheduled in the case, according to online court records.

Thomas declined to name his client, saying only that they are a Virginia resident and wish to remain anonymous out of fear of blowback.

“The governor has instituted a system by which these things can be taken down, and that involves notice and opportunities to be heard. It seems there’s some undue haste in this,” he said. “If [Richmond] ultimately votes to take them down, that’s their business, but at this particular point, we don’t want them taken down without the appropriate measures being taken.”

A Stoney administration official said the mayor hasn’t been served in the case, but that the work will continue unless an injunction is granted.

A state law that took effect July 1 gave localities control over Confederate statues on public land. That law laid out a 60-day administrative process for localities to follow, a process Stoney said city leaders will carry out while the statues are held in storage. The council is scheduled to hold an in-person public hearing, a required part of the process, in early August. All nine council members said they would support removing the statues prior to Stoney ordering their removal.

Stoney said last week his administration plans to take down 11 monuments. Crews already have lowered the most prominent ones previously on display in Richmond: the city-owned statues along Monument Avenue. Only the state-owned Robert E. Lee monument remains standing on the famous street.

A separate legal case, in which a Richmond judge granted an injunction, challenges the state’s plan to remove the Confederate general’s statue. A hearing in the case is scheduled for later this month.

Removal of the city-owned statues began suddenly last Wednesday, after Stoney flouted advice from Richmond’s interim city attorney, who openly disputed the mayor’s assertion that he possessed the authority to order them removed as a threat to public safety.

Before making the decision to order the statues’ immediate removal, Stoney sought legal advice from Jeffrey Breit and Justin Sheldon, from the law firm of Breit Cantor, and Richmond attorneys Greg and Marion Werkheiser of Cultural Heritage Partners PLLC.

Both firms are working with the mayor pro bono, Stoney spokesman Jim Nolan said Wednesday.

Rather than have the Confederate symbols in a repository, the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans has asked the Richmond City Council for possession of the statues. Under the same state law that outlines the removal process, a local governing body must offer the statues to “any museum, historical society, government, or military battlefield.”

The iconography, the group said in a Wednesday letter to the City Council, would be displayed on private property. The organization has been working to find land in Virginia to display the “sacred” memorials, said Andrew Bennett Morehead, a spokesman for the roughly 3,000-person Virginia branch of the Tennessee-based group.

“Those who wish to view these memorials can do so, and those who are not so inclined are free from the presence of these memorials on public property,” Morehead said in the letter to the city. “This resolution will address the concerns of various groups, while ensuring responsible stewardship and provide a better path forward.”

Morehead added that the group would be “prepared to receive them as early as the first part of September 2020.” He said in an interview that the organization is qualified to receive the statues under the historical society language included in the new state law, which stipulates that local governing bodies have the ultimate decision on where the memorials end up.

Richmond City Council President Cynthia Newbille did not return an email Wednesday requesting comment on the proposal.

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Twitter: @__MarkRobinson

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