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Plaintiffs drop 1 lawsuit, file another over Lee statue

Workers for The Virginia Department of General Services install concrete barriers around the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue Wednesday, June 17, 2020, in Richmond, Va. The barriers are intended to protect the safety of demonstrators as well as the structure itself. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Workers for The Virginia Department of General Services install concrete barriers around the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue Wednesday, June 17, 2020, in Richmond, Va. The barriers are intended to protect the safety of demonstrators as well as the structure itself. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

RICHMOND, Va. – A group of property owners along Richmond’s famed Monument Avenue dropped one lawsuit and immediately replaced it with another on Wednesday seeking to block the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, an attorney for the group said.

The six plaintiffs had initially filed a state lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court on Monday, but Attorney General Mark Herring moved it to federal court. The plaintiffs then dropped the lawsuit altogether on Wednesday and filed a new, similar suit again in the state court, said attorney Patrick McSweeney.

The complaint challenges Gov. Ralph Northam’s authority to order the equestrian statue’s removal from its prominent place in the ex-capital of the Confederacy.

It argues doing so would violate the terms of the deed conveying the statue, a 1889 legislative provision and state laws. It also says removing the statue would strip a stretch of Monument Avenue of its current National Historic Landmark designation, resulting in “the loss of favorable tax treatment” and reduced property values.

Northam announced earlier this month that the statue would be taken down and moved to storage while his administration seeks public input on its future. He cited the pain gripping the country over the killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who pleaded for air as a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck.

Floyd’s death has sparked global protests that participants have vowed to turn into a sustained movement focused on addressing racial injustice and police brutality. It has also led to an intense reexamination of statues and monuments of historical figures around the world.

The governor has repeatedly said he’s confident in his authority to remove the statue. Herring, a Democrat like Northam, has pledged to defend Northam’s plans, calling the Lee statue a “divisive relic.”

The statue is one of five memorials to the Confederacy along Monument Avenue, and the only one on state property. The Richmond City Council has expressed unanimous support for removing the rest, which demonstrators have covered with graffiti in recent weeks.

A hearing is scheduled Thursday in Richmond Circuit Court in a separate state lawsuit over the Lee statue removal plans. A judge in that case has issued a temporary injunction preventing its removal.

McSweeney said he filed a motion to consolidate that case and his clients’.

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This story has been updated to correct the time element in the first and second paragraphs.