Richmond Circuit Judge Bradley B. Cavedo has recused himself from participating in a pending legal challenge by residents of the Monument Avenue Historic District of Gov. Ralph Northam’s order to remove the monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
However, Cavedo, who lives within the historic district, remains the presiding judge in an earlier challenge of the governor’s order by a descendant of the family that deeded the property for the monument to the state 130 years ago.
The judge has blocked Northam from removing the Lee statue from the state-owned circle at Monument and Allen Street with an injunction that he extended indefinitely on June 18 to allow William C. Gregory, the descendant of the family that donated the land, to revise his legal challenge to the governor.
A hearing in that case, which could be amended next week to address Gregory’s lack of legal standing, is scheduled July 23.
Cavedo, first appointed to the court by then-Gov. Mark Warner in 2002 and re-elected by the General Assembly the next year, declined to comment on whether he could properly preside over the case filed by Gregory.
“I am prohibited by judicial ethics rules from commenting on my cases outside of the courtroom,” the judge said in an email response to the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Friday.
Cavedo’s residence within the Monument Avenue Historic District was first reported on Tuesday by Richmond BizSense.
He is the fifth judge on the seven-member Richmond Circuit Court to step aside in the second lawsuit over the governor’s attempt to remove the Lee monument, filed by Helen Marie Taylor and five other unnamed residents of the historic district established in 1969. Four other judges, including Chief Judge Joi Jeter Taylor, previously recused themselves from presiding in the case.
Taylor was the only one of the judges who offered an explanation for her recusal, citing “a pecuniary financial interest of myself or a family member in the outcome of the case.” She has not responded to a written inquiry by The Times-Dispatch about the recusals, Cavedo’s appointment to preside in the Gregory case, or his actions in granting and extending an injunction against Northam and Joe Damico, director of the state agency that would be responsible for removing the Lee statue.
Cavedo was appointed to preside in the Gregory case after Judge Beverly Snukals recused herself. Snukals also declined to preside in the case initially filed in circuit court by Helen Marie Taylor and the other Monument Avenue district residents.
Judge William R. Marchant has been appointed to preside in that case. Attorney General Mark Herring succeeded in having the case transferred to federal court, but Helen Marie Taylor and her co-plaintiffs withdrew the federal suit and filed a motion to consolidate the suit with Gregory’s in state court.
“Attorney General Herring remains committed to ensuring the removal of this divisive and antiquated relic as soon as possible and we’re hopeful this won’t cause any delay in resolving the matter,” spokesman Michael Kelly said Friday. “Governor Northam has the moral and legal authority to remove the Lee statue.”
Helen Marie Taylor’s suit contends that removal of the Lee monument would have “a substantial adverse impact” on her and the other residents, who say the damages would include “the loss of favorable tax treatment and reduction in property values.”
Five of the plaintiffs asked to remain anonymous because of fear for “their personal safety and the safety of their families and residences,” as the Lee monument remains the focus of protests over racial injustice after the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.
Protesters say statues of Lee and other Confederate leaders represent white supremacy, erected long after the Civil War to glorify the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy to maintain Black slavery in the Southern states. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney ordered the removal of all city-owned monuments to the Confederacy on July 1, the day a new state law took effect giving localities authority to take down war memorials on property they control.
The same day, work crews removed the statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson from its pedestal at Monument Avenue and Arthur Ashe Boulevard. On Thursday, they removed the statue of Confederate naval commander Matthew Fontaine Maury from its place at Monument and Belmont Avenue, as well as two cannon memorials. The city also plans to remove the statue of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart from its pedestal at Monument and Lombardy Avenue among 11 monuments slated for removal.
Protesters already have torn down three statues honoring Confederate leaders, including that of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, on Monument at Davis Avenue.
They also have renamed the Lee circle after Marcus-David Peters, who was killed by Richmond police in 2018. Peters, an Essex County biology teacher and Virginia Commonwealth University honors graduate, was naked, unarmed and experiencing a mental health crisis when he was fatally shot by a Richmond police officer. The shooting was deemed justified by the city’s former police chief and prosecutor at the time because Peters threatened to kill the officer as he charged him.
Northam announced June 4 that he would take down the Lee statue, erected in 1890, but Gregory filed a lawsuit to block the removal as a violation of the deed for the land that his forebears gave to the state for the monument. The suit contends that the deed requires the state to consider the monument and area around it “perpetually sacred” and “faithfully guard it and affectionately protect it.”
Cavedo granted a 10-day injunction on June 8 to block the statue’s removal, even before Northam and the attorney general’s office were aware of the suit. They were not notified of the hearing in which the judge granted the temporary injunction.
Ten days later, the judge agreed with the state that Gregory lacked legal standing to bring the suit but gave him an additional 21 days to amend the civil action and extended the injunction indefinitely over Herring’s objection.
Carl Tobias, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Richmond, said the law is not clear on consolidation of the two suits or whether Cavedo would have to recuse himself if the two actions were merged.
“In Virginia, it’s very much open-ended, very much left to the discretion of the judge,” Tobias said about the potential consolidation of suits.
Recusal is a “separate issue,” he said. “Typically, it has to do with the appearance of a conflict of interest.”