An Orange County judge has dismissed the lawsuit filed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans against the UNC System, voiding the $2.5 million payment to the pro-Confederate group and the transfer of property of the Silent Sam monument.
After hearing arguments from both original parties, as well as two groups who filed amicus briefs arguing against the legality of the lawsuit and consent judgement, Judge Allen Baddour ruled on Wednesday the Sons of Confederate Veterans lacked evidence to prove group had legal standing to bring action against the UNC System and dismissed the case.
The decision from Baddour, who approved the original consent judgement determined in late November, dissolves the settlement, which included the creation of a $2.5 million trust fund for the Confederate monument’s preservation and display. The original parties discussed following the decision whether any money had been spent from the trust yet. Boyd Sturges, the attorney for the SCV, said $52,000 had been spent to pay for his legal services. Baddour then requested an accounting record soon be submitted to reflect this and ordered the funds be returned to the university system.
While Baddour did not indicate what element of the plaintiff’s, defendant’s or friends of the court’s arguments lead him to his decision, he chose to hold the hearing after dismissing an attempted intervention of UNC students into the lawsuit back in December. While representing the students, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law argued at the time the lawsuit was “meritless” and filed hastily. The same group made arguments at Wednesday’s hearing, saying the lawsuit lacked standing due to the university owning the Confederate monument instead of the SCV or the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who claimed the statue as a gift to UNC.
UNC sophomore De’Ivyion Drew is one of the students represented by the Lawyers’ Committee and she attended the hearing. She said she did not expect the result of the ruling, but said she believed the judge made the right moral choice.
“It is great that the judge chose the freedom side, [the side of] the voices of students, staff, faculty and community members who have been voicing [opposition for decades. This is a very big step toward the next necessary step, which is to bring back a feeling of safety and belonging back on UNC campus.”
Drew, who is a member of the university’s Campus Safety Commission, said while the monument’s future is still unclear, she hopes the university system will use this opportunity to work with the community to determine the next step. She has routinely been outspoken in her belief of the monument symbolizing white supremacy and the lost cause of the Confederacy.
“The response that would make all communities in North Carolina safe, outside of the 14 counties [with a UNC system university where the monument was banned], would be to have the statue destroyed,” said Drew. “It represents a false history, a history that’s alternative to the truth-seeking motivation and mission of the university.”
Another group presented an argument at Wednesday’s hearing, as a representative for 88 UNC alumni argued that based off of a UNC historian’s research, the university ultimately owned the statue and not the UDC or SCV. Cecelia Moore, who worked for both former UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and current Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz to learn more about Silent Sam, filed an affidavit into the hearing saying she found evidence the university largely led fundraising efforts for the Confederate monument and failed to find any deed of gift document with stipulations for it to remain on campus.
Some of the 88 alumni are members of the UNC Black Pioneers, a group of the first African American students who all attended the university between 1952 and 1972. Chair of the group Walter Jackson attended the hearing and said he was elated over the decision to cancel the settlement.
“It made no sense at all to give $2.5 million to the Sons of Confederate Veterans supposedly to house and care for that monument,” said Jackson, who arrived at UNC in 1963. “There’s still a problem remaining [with the monument’s future], but I’m delighted that particular segment is over.”
Ripley Rand, outside counsel representing the UNC System and the UNC Board of Governors, issued a statement on Wednesday following the decision.
“While this was not the result we had hoped for, we respect the Court’s ruling in this case. Judge Baddour gave us a fair hearing, and he afforded all parties the necessary time and consideration to be heard. The Board of Governors knew from the very beginning that this was a difficult but needed solution to meet all their goals to protect public safety of the University community, restore normality to campus, and be compliant with the Monuments Law. The Board of Governors will move forward with these three goals at the forefront and will go back to work to find a lasting and lawful solution to the dispute over the monument. We appreciate Judge Baddour’s consideration in this case and we respect his decision in this matter.”
The Confederate monument stood on UNC campus for more than 100 years until it was torn down by protesters in August 2018. The pedestal on which it once stood was later removed under the authorization of Folt. A proposed plan to construct a $5 million dollar new building to house the statue on UNC’s campus had previously been rejected by the system’s Board of Governors.
Baddour’s comments on Wednesday did not include how or when the monument itself would be returned to the university’s possession. Both Sturges and Rand said they wanted to consult with their clients to gauge reactions following the ruling. Baddour requested the Board of Governors submit a filing by Monday saying whether it wants the court to order any parameters for the statue’s return from the SCV’s possession.