Virginia judge imposes injunction barring removal of Robert E. Lee statue

A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, unveild in 1890, stands at the center of Lee Circle along Monument Avenue August 23, 2017 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A circuit court judge in Virginia Monday imposed an injunction barring the state from dismantling a 21-foot-high statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant wrote that "the public interest does weigh in favor" of a 90-day injunction.

In a separate case, Marchant dismissed entirely as not "legally viable" the claims filed by a descendant of signatories to an 1890 deed that transferred the statue to the state, and he dissolved an existing injunction in that case.

Plaintiff William C. Gregory, the great-grandson of land donors, had argued the state agreed to "faithfully guard" and "affectionately protect" the statue on historic Monument Avenue.

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam appreciates the dismissal of the Gregory case and "looks forward to another victory in court as soon as possible," his spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said in a statement.

"This statue will come down -- and Virginia will be better for it," she said.

Northam announced plans to remove the statue in early June, citing the nationwide protests against racial injustice in the wake of the police custody death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis.

Should a court eventually clear the way, it won't be a simple task to remove the 21-foot-high, 12-ton equestrian statue. A state board's removal plan calls for cutting it into three sections for eventual reassembly elsewhere.

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In the property owners case, Marchant found that the plaintiffs have the general standing to sue, and then considered one of their five claims, finding that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed "under the common law doctrine of restrictive covenants running with the land."

He said he would hear evidence and arguments on all five counts at another hearing. Court records did not indicate such a hearing has been scheduled.

Four of the plaintiffs own property near statue; another is a trustee of a property owner. They claim that removing the Lee statue could result in the loss of the neighborhood's National Historic Landmark designation, "which will have a substantial adverse impact " on the plaintiffs, "including the loss of favorable tax treatment and reduction in property values."

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has filed a motion to dismiss their lawsuit, and "remains committed to ensuring this divisive, antiquated relic is removed as soon as possible.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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