Roughly 50 or more Monument Avenue residents who live nearby the Robert E. Lee statue intend to file an amicus brief with the Virginia Supreme Court in support of Governor Ralph Northam’s plan to remove the controversial monument, a lawyer representing the group said.
Local residents organized the group called Circle Neighbors after a Richmond Circuit Court judge ruled earlier this week against three plaintiffs, who also live near the monument, seeking to block the Commonwealth from removing the statue.
Patrick McSweeney, the plaintiffs’ attorney, told The Virginia Star that he filed a notice of appeal to the state Supreme Court on Thursday, signifying that his clients plan to appeal Judge W. Reilly Marchant’s decision to a higher court.
Filing the legal brief on the behalf of Circle Neighbors are Richmond lawyers Greg Werkheiser and Will Cook, from Cultural Heritage Partners LLC. Werkheiser said the group includes residents who have lived in the neighborhood for as many as 48 years and who have resided for a collective 600 plus years in homes looking directly at the statue.
“We’ll put together a motion and a brief that will hopefully help the court understand what it means that the vast majority of people who actually live next to the monument want the Lee statue [taken] down,” Werkheiser said in an interview with The Star.
“The existence of this group is proof of why the General Assembly has changed public policy with respect to the Lee monument. It’s because [that] neighborhood is evolving, just like Richmond is evolving, just like the country is evolving,” Werkheiser added. “And what it means is that our public places must be allowed to evolve with us. We can’t have everything frozen as it was 100 years ago, there has to be room for communities to change, to evolve, to articulate their values in different ways.”
Werkheiser also said that his clients, contrary to the perception of Monument Avenue residents, want their neighborhood to be welcoming for all people and would be willing to sit down with the plaintiffs to discuss what the future of Monument Avenue could look like.
“Let us all move forward,” said Circle Neighbors member Alice Massie. “It is time to move beyond angry litigation and let this circle become something fully and refreshingly new.”
Another member of the group, Coleen Butler Rodriguez, said that “Richmond has an opportunity and an obligation to be the city where healing begins and moving the Lee statue is an important way to advance that hard work.”
When contacted on Friday, McSweeney had no comment on the amicus brief, but did say he expects that many briefs will be filed from both sides of the case.
On Tuesday, Marchant ruled in favor of Northam and the state after finding the Lee statue was raised as a backdrop of the Confederacy and keeping the monument up would go against contemporary public policy as set by state legislators.
As part of the decision, a previous injunction blocking the removal of the statue was dissolved, but Marchant also ordered that no work can be done to take down the monument until a proper appeals process has been completed.
This lawsuit all stems from back during May when George Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests over police brutality and social inequity.
In Richmond, and other cities, a large focus of the protestors centered on the Confederate monuments and symbols. Most statues in the city were vandalized with graffiti, especially the lee monument, but one was toppled by demonstrators – leading to Northam ordering the statue be removed in June.
Before any action could be taken by the Commonwealth, a resident of the Monument Avenue Historic District filed suit against the governor to block the statue coming down. During those months, the Lee statue and its circle transformed into a gathering spot for locals, visitors, street musicians and others.
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