The Richmond Circuit Court judge who has blocked Gov. Ralph Northam’s plan to take down the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue is no longer the judge in the case.
Judge Bradley B. Cavedo on Thursday recused himself from the legal challenge filed by William Gregory, a descendant of the people who signed over the land the statue stands on to the state, according to online court records. A reassignment order shows that Judge William R. Marchant will now preside over the case.
The recusal came the same day that six Monument Avenue residents who filed a separate lawsuit dropped their case in Richmond Circuit Court. Cavedo, who lives in the Monument Avenue Historic District, recused himself in that case as well.
Cavedo said in the order that he was recusing himself because of his home’s location in the historic district, a fact he said he was unaware of until the case.
In an email, Cavedo deferred to his recusal order. He included his reasoning in the order, which is something “we don’t usually do,” Cavedo said. “But these are unusual times.”
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, called Cavedo’s recusal appropriate, adding that judicial ethics codes say a judge should recuse if there’s an actual conflict of interest or the appearance of one.
“The appearance can be just as bad as an actual conflict,” Tobias said.
Cavedo granted the initial injunction blocking the Lee statue’s removal on June 8, four days after Northam announced his plans to have the state take down the most prominent Confederate symbol in the former capital of the Confederacy. He extended it indefinitely 10 days later, despite granting a motion from Attorney General Mark Herring to dismiss the original complaint because of a lack of standing.
A hearing in the Gregory case is scheduled for July 23.
“Attorney General Herring remains committed to making sure this divisive and antiquated relic comes down as soon as possible and we’re hopeful that this won’t cause any delay in resolving the matter,” Herring spokeswoman Charlotte Gomer said in response to Cavedo’s recusal.
A judge was set to consider combining the now-withdrawn case involving the Monument Avenue residents with the Gregory case on Thursday, but the residents dropped their lawsuit hours before the hearing.
The court filing withdrawing the suit did not offer a reason for why the residents were dropping it but stipulated that the plaintiffs can refile without prejudice, said a lawyer for the residents, Patrick McSweeney.
“I explained the reason for the lawsuit to the court in writing, but I’m not at liberty to share that with the public,” he said in an email. “The court can release it if it chooses.”
McSweeney said Gregory’s lawyer and a lawyer in the attorney general’s office received a copy.
The withdrawn lawsuit argued that removing statues on Monument Avenue, including the prominent Lee, would decrease property values and hurt tax incentives, given the statues’ location in a federally recognized historic district.
The residents — only one of whom, Helen Marie Taylor, was named — dropped a similar lawsuit in federal court last month in order to file it in Richmond Circuit Court, where it was eventually withdrawn without a hearing.
The city of Richmond, which owns all but the Lee statue, has already taken down the four other Confederate statues on Monument Avenue — of Matthew Fontaine Maury, “Stonewall” Jackson, Jefferson Davis and J.E.B. Stuart — but in response to a different lawsuit, Cavedo granted a 60-day injunction blocking the removal of more Confederate iconography.
“The plaintiffs dropped their original suit a couple weeks ago when it was removed to federal court and now they have dropped it again,” Gomer said roughly an hour before a hearing in the case.
Marchant, the new judge in the Gregory case, was also set to preside over the case involving the Monument Avenue residents.
Herring filed a motion Wednesday looking to consolidate the two cases. While McSweeney initially sought to consolidate as well, the plaintiffs withdrew that motion earlier this week.
Tobias, the UR law professor, called the second withdrawal of the Taylor case unusual. He added before Cavedo’s recusal that it could have been a move to ensure Cavedo, who has been sympathetic to keeping the statues up, was the presiding judge.
“I think they want Cavedo because at least he’s indicated he’s amenable to their position,” Tobias said.
Gregory’s argument is based on the language of the 1890 deed, which says the state is supposed to consider the monument and the area around it “perpetually sacred” and “faithfully guard it and affectionately protect it.” He filed an amended complaint last week.
“If it turns out Gregory doesn’t have standing, you don’t have a case that’s alive,” Tobias said.
Gregory, who lives in Mechanicsville, had raised $25,650 through GoFundMe to help pay for legal expenses, as of 5 p.m. Thursday.