In the final day of the Monument Fund’s lawsuit against the city, Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore ruled that the plaintiffs won’t be awarded damages, but will receive a to-be-determined amount in attorneys’ fees that’ll be less than the original ask of over $604,000.
Early in the three-day trial, the culmination of a case that’s dragged on for two-and-a-half years, Judge Moore ruled that the city cannot remove downtown’s Lee and Jackson statues, saying that doing so would be in violation of a Virginia historical preservation law. The remainder of the three-day trial was devoted to plaintiffs’ testimony on how much money should be awarded in damages and attorneys’ fees.
Shortly after the court convened Friday morning, Moore offered a declaratory judgement. He determined that the City Council’s resolution to remove the Lee statue was null and void because it was beyond the Council’s authority to do so. “They would have had to have had special permission or authority from the General Assembly,” Moore said.
He then questioned what damages—if any—flow from the city’s violation of the statues.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Braxton Puryear argued that Virginia’s statute prohibiting the removal of war monuments allows for “citizen enforcement of the law” when localities violate its terms. Because the statues cannot represent themselves, the plaintiffs have the right to enforce the law and sue the city for damages. The plaintiffs sought $500 each.
Though there was no evidence of physical damage to the monuments, Puryear claimed the plaintiffs experienced emotional damage when they were not able to view the monuments for the 188-day period they were shrouded with tarps following the Unite the Right rally that led to three deaths.
“These are public monuments … for people to view and enjoy,” Puryear said. “These monuments were encroached upon [by the tarps].”
Chief Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson argued that the tarps didn’t cause any physical damage to the statues. According to the preservation law, injury must have been inflicted on the statues, not on the plaintiffs, in order for compensatory damages to be awarded.
Judge Moore acknowledged the plaintiffs’ claims of emotional distress over the statues being covered. “It is a loss for the public in general for the public to not be able to see [the statues],” he said.
However, he agreed that the statute only allowed plaintiffs to be compensated for physical damages, and “other than the temporary coverings … there’s not been any damage or vandalism to the statues related to this case.”
After lunch, Moore heard arguments on the attorneys’ fees.
Plaintiffs asked for $604,038.33, including $12,000 for an expert witness who testified that the attorneys’ fees were reasonable.
Over several hours, Robertson took issue with some of the plaintiffs’ claims for compensation, arguing that certain administrative tasks should not be included in the attorneys’ fees and that the plaintiffs attorneys’ records were not sufficiently detailed.
Ultimately, Moore agreed that the plaintiffs, as the prevailing party, were owed attorneys’ fees, but that he needed more time to review the billing records and relevant case law to determine the exact amount. He didn’t give a deadline for his decision, which will likely be by letter.