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Judge voids university’s $2.5 million settlement over Confederate soldier statue

The issue turned on a matter of the ownership of the statue

A North Carolina judge this week voided a controversial $2.5 million settlement regarding a Confederate statue on the campus of the University of North Carolina, once more casting doubt on the fate of the statue, including whether or not it will return to the school’s campus where it has generated so much controversy.

In December, the University of North Carolina system agreed to shell out that hefty payment as part of a deal to permanently bar the much-maligned “Silent Sam” statue from any UNC campus. Activists and critics on campus believed the statue was a modern-day monument to white supremacy. Tensions around the statue had even escalated to the point of protesters toppling it.

A local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans had sued the university for removing all traces of the statue from campus. The group had asserted ownership over the statue, which the university in the December settlement formally acknowledged. The $2.5 million was meant to establish a trust to provide for “certain limited expenses related to the care and preservation of the monument, including potentially a facility to house and display the monument.”

Now, the Raleigh News and Observer reports that Orange County Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour has overturned that ruling, reversing his previous decision from late last year and dismissing the case altogether.

Baddour “did not explain his reasoning,” The Observer reports, but the arguments that played out in the courtroom may give an indication of why he decided to flip:

[Lawyers Boyd] Sturges and [Ripley] Rand argued that the SCV had “colorable standing,” which means a seemingly genuine or legally valid right to get involved with the Silent Sam monument and negotiate in good faith.

Rand said that according to the historical records, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) made a conditional gift of the statue to UNC that was dependent on the monument staying up. He argued that the UDC owned the monument from the moment it was put up on campus and when that group shifted ownership to the SCV in 2019, that gave the SCV rights to get involved…

On Wednesday, civil rights lawyer Elizabeth Haddix argued on behalf of the students and faculty member and Burton Craige represented nearly 100 UNC alumni and donors who opposed the settlement.

Haddix argued that the UDC could not own property, UDC members could not enter into a contract and the words, “may it stand forever,” do not create a condition that UNC broke when the statue was torn down and its base was removed from campus.

“The UDC never owned the monument,” Haddix said. “UNC always owned the monument.”

Another lawyer, Burton Craige, argued that “only a third of the money raised for the statue came from UDC donations and all the donations went to the university bursar, not the UDC, to pay for the statue. He said UNC entered into a contract with the sculptor, the statue was delivered to the university and UNC installed the monument.”

Sturges, the lawyer for the confederate group, said he was “disappointed” in the ruling; UNC’s lawyer Rand, meanwhile, said that “the hearing was fair and [his clients] respect the ruling,” according to The Observer. 

Read the report here.

MORE: UNC pays $2.5 million to ban Silent Sam monument from any UNC campus

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