Judge: Charlottesville Confederate statues are protected

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — A Virginia judge has ruled that Charlottesville's Confederate statues are war monuments protected by state law.

Judge Richard Moore's ruling came in a lawsuit filed against Charlottesville City Council members who voted in 2017 to remove a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Moore cited how statues of Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson depict the men in military uniforms and on horses associated with them during the Civil War. Virginia law makes it illegal for local municipalities to remove war monuments without permission from the state.

Moore acknowledged the controversy that has surrounded Confederate statues in recent years, and said his ruling is limited to the question of whether the Lee and Jackson statues in Charlottesville fall under the definition of war memorials in Virginia law.

"While some people obviously see Lee and Jackson as symbols of white supremacy, others see them as brilliant military tacticians or complex leaders in a difficult time ... and do not think of white supremacy at all and certainly do not believe in, accept, or believe in such. In either event, the statues to them under the undisputed facts of this case still are monuments and memorials to them, as veterans of the Civil War," Moore wrote.

Moore said his ruling doesn't guarantee that the plaintiffs will win if the lawsuit goes to trial. He said he still needs to rule on several pending issues, including the city councilors' motion that they have immunity from the lawsuit.

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Controversy surrounding Confederate memorials
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Controversy surrounding Confederate memorials
A monument to former U.S. Vice President and Confederate General John Cabell Breckinridge stands outside the Old Courthouse in Lexington, Ky., U.S., August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
A monument to Confederate General John Hunt Morgan stands encased in a protective scaffolding because of local construction, outside the Historic Lexington Courthouse in Lexington, Ky., U.S., August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
A municipal worker attempts to remove paint from a monument dedicated to Confederate soldier John B. Castleman that was vandalized late Saturday night in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Municipal workers attempt to remove paint from a monument dedicated to Confederate soldier John B. Castleman that was vandalized late Saturday night in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Protesters gather below a monument dedicated to Confederate Major John B. Castleman while demanding that it be removed from the public square in Louisville, Ky., US, August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
A plaque dedicated to Confederate soldier John B. Castleman is seen after it was vandalized late Saturday night in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
Municipal workers attempt to remove paint from a monument dedicated to Confederate soldier John B. Castleman that was vandalized late Saturday night in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
White supremacists carry a shield and Confederate flag as they arrive at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A member of a white supremacists militia stands near a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 13: Police stand watch near the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the center of Emancipation Park the day after the Unite the Right rally devolved into violence August 13, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the statue and change the name of the space from Lee Park to Emancipation Park, sparking protests from white nationalists, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and members of the 'alt-right.' (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 13: Police stand watch near the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the center of Emancipation Park the day after the Unite the Right rally devolved into violence August 13, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the statue and change the name of the space from Lee Park to Emancipation Park, sparking protests from white nationalists, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and members of the 'alt-right.' (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 12: White nationalists, neo-Nazis, the KKK and members of the 'alt-right' attempt to organize inside Emancipation Park during the Unite the Right rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. After clashes with anti-facist protesters and police the rally was declared an unlawful gathering and people were forced out of Lee Park, where a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is slated to be removed. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
ANNAPOLIS, MD - AUGUST 16: Two women take pictures in front of the statue of US Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney that sits in front of the Maryland State House, on August 16, 2017 in Annapolis, Maryland. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has called for the removal of the statue. Taney was the author of the Dred Scott decision. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
LEXINGTON, KY-AUGUST 14: A monument to John Hunt Morgan, a Confederate General during the Civil War, stands near the old Historic Lexington Courthouse August 14, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky. The Mayor of Lexington, Jim Gray, announced he has vowed to remove the statue, along with a statue of John C. Breckinridge which also stands at the courthouse, following the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Gray tweeted, 'We cannot let them define our future.' (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
DEMOPOLIS, AL - JUNE 14: The marble statue of a Rebel soldier was unceremoniously toppled from the granite pedestal where he had presided since 1910, on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, in Demopolis, AL. About 3:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 16, 2016, an on-duty patrol car with the Demopolis, Ala., Police Department proceeded north on North Main Avenue to the intersection of West Capitol Street, where it crashed into the citys Confederate memorial. The impact of the Dodge Charger broke the statue off at the shins. Undamaged was the inscription on the base: Our Confederate Dead. (photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, UNITED STATES - APRIL 3. The Jefferson Davis statue stands across the street from First Grace United Methodist Church in New Orleans, on April 3, 2016. It is one of several confederate statues in the city. (Photo by Ben Depp for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 04: New Orleans police officers stand guard at the Jefferson Davis monument on May 4, 2017 in New Orleans, Loiusiana. The Louisiana House committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs voted Wednesday to advance House Bill 71 that would forbid the removal of Confederate monuments in Louisiana as the City Council in New Orleans tries to move three statues of Confederate luminaries from public spaces and into museums. Protests that have at times turned violent have erupted at the site of the Jefferson Davis Monument after the Battle at Liberty Place monument was taken down in the middle of the night on April 24. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A 1933 statue of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis is removed from University of Texas' South Mall Sunday after UT President Gregory Fenves cleared it to be placed in a campus museum along with a companion statue of President Woodrow Wilson. Recent racially-motivated shootings in the U.S. have called for reexamining some cultural icons of the Confederate South. (Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images)
Attorney Kirk Lyons disagrees as a 1933 statue of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis is removed from University of Texas' South Mall Sunday after UT President Gregory Fenves cleared it to be placed in a campus museum along with a companion statue of President Woodrow Wilson. Recent racially-motivated shootings in the U.S. have called for reexamining some cultural icons of the Confederate South. (Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images)
ROCKVILLE, MD -May 5, 2016: A life-size bronze statue of a Confederate soldier stands in a grove outside the courthouse on May 5, 2016 in Rockville, MD.(Photo by Eric Kruszewski/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
A 1933 statue of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis is removed from University of Texas' South Mall Sunday after UT President Gregory Fenves cleared it to be placed in a campus museum along with a companion statue of President Woodrow Wilson. Recent racially-motivated shootings in the U.S. have called for reexamining some cultural icons of the Confederate South. (Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images)
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The Monument Fund filed the lawsuit in March 2017, alleging that the council violated state law when it voted to remove the Lee statue. The lawsuit was later amended to also include the Jackson statue.

The statues have not been taken down.

Former City Councilor Bob Fenwick, a defendant in the lawsuit, told WCAV-TV he believes the council still has a good case to remove the statues.

"The important part is, does the council have legislative immunity, sort of like how a judge has judicial immunity so that the conclusions and the decisions that we make as councilors are final," Fenwick said. "It was a lawful act that we did."

Hundreds of white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville in August 2017 to protest the planned removal of the Lee statue. One woman was killed and dozens were injured with a self-avowed white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of people who showed up to demonstrate against the white nationalists.

James Alex Fields Jr., of Maumee, Ohio, was convicted of murder and other charges in state court. Fields pleaded guilty last month to federal hate crimes. He is awaiting sentencing.

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