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Judge who issued injunction blocking removal of Richmond's Lee statue recuses himself from case

Judge who issued injunction blocking removal of Richmond's Lee statue recuses himself from case

SATURDAY, July 04, 2020
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RICHMOND, Va. - The Circuit Court judge who imposed an indefinite injunction against removing the statue of Robert E. Lee on state property has recused himself from the case.

Judge Bradley Cavedo withdrew on Wednesday, according to court records.

The judge issued a temporary injunction against removing the statue on June 8, then extended it indefinitely on June 18. He was acting in a civil case brought against Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam by a man who claims to be descended from the family that deeded the monument site to the state about 1890.

The recusal does not appear to affect the injunction, although it could affect the July 23 hearing date that Cavedo scheduled for the case.

As first reported by the Richmond BizSense, Cavedo's withdrawal is the latest in a series of judges stepping aside from cases involving the Lee statue. Another circuit judge had withdrawn from the suit involving the deed, which was brought by resident William Gregory, before Cavedo was assigned the case.

And four circuit judges have recused themselves from another case in which residents who live near the monument claim that taking down the statue would harm their property values. Cavedo was considering a motion to join that suit with the one brought by Gregory.

Judges are not required to give a reason for stepping aside. In his recusal order, Cavedo said that because the property owners have asked to join his case, "I am so situated . . . as to render it improper for me to preside." He did not explain, but city property records showthat Cavedo lives about two blocks from the Lee statue, which one legal expert said might have created conflicts of interest.

"First, if it is plausible that a decision could affect local property values in either direction, the judge as an owner of nearby property could be seen personally to benefit from the decision," said Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics expert at the New York University School of Law.

Recusal might also be necessary if the judge's neighbors or friends joined the suit and insisted that an adverse ruling could harm them financially, which could create an appearance of conflict and undermine public confidence, Gillers said.

A lawyer representing Gregory could not be reached for comment on the judge's recusal.

A spokesman for state Attorney General Mark R. Herring said his office "remains committed to ensuring the removal of this divisive and antiquated relic as soon as possible, and we're hopeful this won't cause any delay in resolving the matter."

Northam, a Democrat, announced June 4 that he would take down the statue, which has become the focal point of weeks of demonstrations against injustice toward African Americans triggered by the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.

Protesters have marched along Richmond's posh Monument Avenue almost every night, railing against its five imposing statues of Confederate figures.

Lee is the only one on state property; the others are owned by the city. After Northam's effort to take it down was blocked, protesters pulled down the nearby statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, along with several other memorials across the city.

Then Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney vowed to get the others down under an emergency order extended by Northam. Acting without formal city council approval and bucking the advice of the interim city attorney, Stoney had the statue of Stonewall Jackson taken down before a crowd on Wednesday. A statue of Matthew Fontaine Maury, who was a member of the Confederate navy, came down Thursday.

Stoney has vowed to pull down a statue of Gen. J.E.B. Stuart next, although the July Fourth holiday has slowed the effort. That will leave only Lee still standing. 

Northam has vowed to get the statue down. When Jackson fell, Northam's spokeswoman issued a statement: "Make no mistake - Robert E. Lee is next."