Virginia Judge Recuses Himself From Fight Over Confederate Statues

A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is seen during protests in Richmond, Va., on June 2, 2020. (Courthouse News photo/Brad Kutner)

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — A Virginia judge has recused himself from two lawsuits over the removal of Confederate monuments in the former capital of the Confederacy, pointing to the fact that he lives near the statues.   

In an order released Thursday afternoon, Richmond City Circuit Court Judge Bradley Cavedo recused himself from a battle between Governor Ralph Northam and William Gregory, who claimed he was the deed holder to a massive statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Cavedo blocked Northam’s attempt to remove the statue after the governor claimed he had the authority to do so under emergency powers. From the bench, the judge said the statue “belongs to the people” despite it being desecrated by protesters over the last month and a half.

“I conclude that the location of my home in the vicinity of the Lee monument area may create the appearance of a bias among some Virginians. I was unaware at the outset of this case that I lived in the Monument Avenue Historic District,” the judge wrote in the order, providing a rare explanation for his recusal even though state law does not require it. 

Monument Avenue, until recently, was home to five massive monuments to Confederate generals and leaders.

In another order issued Friday morning, the judge listed the same reason for recusing himself from a second suit in which he blocked Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney from removing Confederate statues. A copy of the order was unavailable by press time, but court clerks confirmed the recusal reason in a phone interview.

Stoney had removed many of the city’s Confederate monuments under authority he said came from emergency powers granted in the wake of nightly Black Lives Matter protests linked to the death of George Floyd. 

Two of Richmond’s best-known Confederate monuments remain: one of Lee on Monument Avenue and one of Confederate General A.P. Hill in the city’s north side. Cavedo’s order blocked any further removal for 60 days despite a change in state law that would allow for their removal sooner.

The judge’s recusal orders come a week after Virginia Delegate Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, tweeted out text from an op-ed written by the judge that he called “highly problematic.” 

“I will be leaving the solicitous paternalism of the federal courts, which among other things nearly wrecked my high school education by instituting a massive busing plan that caused more upheaval in my school and life than most people could imagine,” wrote Cavedo in 1977 in the University of Richmond’s newspaper, The Collegian, where he was editor of the editorial section.

Courthouse News first confirmed last Friday that the author of the op-ed was the same Cavedo overseeing the Confederate Monument disputes. The judge has also questioned the effectiveness of coronavirus testing from the bench in recent hearings, and pushed back against Virginia Supreme Court guidance aimed at reducing incarcerated populations during the pandemic.

According to court filings, Judge William R. Marchant will now preside over both cases.

In a statement on the judge’s recusal from the Northam case, a spokesperson for Attorney General Mark Herring, whose office is defending Northam’s authority to remove the Lee statue, said he was “committed to making sure this divisive and antiquated relic comes down as soon as possible.” 

A spokesperson for Northam said his office does not comment on pending litigation, but said “the statue will come down” and the governor “looks forward to that happening as soon as possible.”

In a phone interview, Joseph Blackburn, the Richmond-based attorney representing Gregory in the dispute with the governor, said he was “moving forward” with the case but otherwise offered no comment. 

Attorney Joseph Thomas, who is representing the anonymous plaintiff in the case against Stoney, did not return a request for comment by press time. Attempts to reach Bagby and Stoney were similarly not returned by press time.

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