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Judge orders Lee portrait removed from Louisa County courtroom
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Judge orders Lee portrait removed from Louisa County courtroom

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Louisa courtroom

A portrait of Gen. Robert E. Lee hangs in a Louisa County courtroom.

Circuit Court Judge Timothy K. Sanner has ordered the removal of a portrait of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from its prominent position in a Louisa County courtroom.

Reversing his Nov. 15 ruling that kept the portrait in place, Sanner wrote Thursday that, “while Robert E. Lee’s place in history has been controversial, undoubtedly, for some time, the tenor of the debate has changed remarkably in the 10 months that have passed since the court last addressed the issue.”

“The court is compelled to conclude that the level of controversy surrounding the image of Robert E. Lee is sufficiently intense that it is foreseeable that it may impair the fair administration of justice,” wrote Sanner in his three-page ruling.

“Given the significantly prevalent image of Robert E. Lee as a figure of racial hatred,” he added, “the court is compelled to conclude that such image is unwelcoming to many of the African Americans, and others, who are compelled to appear in our courtroom as litigants, witnesses, jurors, attorneys and judges.”

Sanner was responding to motions by lawyers for Darcel Murphy, a Black man facing a capital murder trial in the courtroom beginning Sept. 28.

Douglas Ramseur, one of Murphy’s lawyers, said in a statement Thursday that “after two years of litigation over the portrait, we are elated that our client, Darcel Murphy, will no longer face trial in a courtroom that chooses to honor those who would oppress him solely because of the color of his skin.”

Sanner ordered the portrait and an accompanying Daughters of the Confederacy plaque removed from the courtroom by Sept. 23, “to be exhibited in such location and manner as best determined by the County of Louisa.”

Sanner turned down an initial request to remove the portrait made by Ramseur, noting, in part, that Virginia at the time still had a state holiday in Lee’s honor.

“There are many who admire the real or perceived qualities of General Lee,” wrote Sanner last year. “The most significant representation of that admiration is the fact that he is one of the few individuals, Virginian or otherwise, who have received the honor of having a Virginia state holiday observed in their honor.”

The judge also wrote that he believed such a decision would more appropriately be made by the Louisa Board of Supervisors and not the courts.

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