Dispute over marker goes on
Confederate soldiers' memorial feud bound for trial
Date published: 8/10/2010
By CLINT SCHEMMER
Fredericksburg's legal battle over the location of a memorial to Confederate dead can go to trial, a judge decided yesterday.
Circuit Judge Gordon F. Willis rejected the city's motion for summary judgment to dismiss a lawsuit by the Sons of Confederate Veterans' local camp, saying the court must decide some of the facts disputed by both sides.
The City Council wants the SCV's Matthew Fontaine Maury Camp No. 1722 to remove a granite-and-bronze memorial it erected in early 2009 to honor 51 Confederate soldiers who were buried nearby on what is now the Maury Commons condominiums.
The small monument sits on one corner of the grassy triangle at Barton and George streets that's better known as site of the much-larger Fredericksburg Area War Memorial.
Last fall, the City Council said the SCV monument must move. It enacted an ordinance declaring the triangle the exclusive site of the War Memorial, donated by the Fredericksburg Area Veterans Council, that honors local military personnel killed in World War I and later conflicts.
The Maury camp contends that state law bars the city from moving its monument, and that the SCV had city building and zoning officials' permission to put it there on municipal property. It claims that elsewhere on city land, markers and monuments to the Union's Irish Brigade and the 7th Michigan Infantry were recently permitted by the same process.
But City Attorney Kathleen Dooley argued in court yesterday that staff weren't authorized to allow the SCV memorial. Permission must come expressly from the City Council, she said.
The SCV camp obtained a building permit for the monument's base from the city zoning administrator.
Since it has that document and the memorial is built, the council cannot retroactively move or alter the monument, the group's Richmond attorney, Patrick McSweeney, told the court.
"After the fact, the city can't change the rules," McSweeney argued.
Judge Willis said he wants to hear testimony on why Roy B. Perry Jr., the SCV camp's first lieutenant commander--who obtained the building permit--believed he had the city's approval for the monument.
And as he did last spring when the case arrived in his courtroom, Willis urged the two sides to settle the issue out of court, through mediation overseen by a retired judge. In interviews afterward, Dooley and McSweeney said their clients are open to such an agreement, if they can find common ground. "If there's a will, it could be worked out," McSweeney said. "The monument could be located where everybody would be satisfied."
But the legal dispute may grow, not go away.
William E. Glover, the local attorney for the Veterans Council, said the group will file a brief asking the court to let it be a party to the case, on the city's side.
The City Council has retained Fredericksburg trial lawyer Jennifer Lee Parrish to assist Dooley in the case.
And while McSweeney and Dooley declined to describe their clients' bargaining positions for a potential deal, it's not clear that the city and the SCV camp are even on the same page.
Ironically, it was the City Council which--in 1861--approved burial of Confederate troops from seven states at what later became the home of Maury School.