COVINGTON — Chief Superior Court Judge John Ott encouraged attorneys arguing for and against removal of the Confederate monument on the Square to file an appeal, no matter which side prevails.
Ott heard arguments Monday morning from plaintiffs seeking to stop removal of the statue and from Newton County, which plans to have the statue removed. Peachtree City attorney Kyle King is representing the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Covington resident Tiffany Davis Humphries represented herself. Both parties had requested that Ott issue an injunction against the statue removal after the Board of Commissioners voted July 14 to remove it and place it in storage until a suitable new location can be found.
Ott said he believes the case should ultimately go to the Georgia Court of Appeals in order to clarify the law on what he described as an issue that “strike(s) deeply into our community.”
“I feel the pain on each side… if I had some magic wand to resolve all this to everybody’s satisfaction, by God, I would love to be able to that,” said Ott.
Ott gave each side 14 days to file briefs in the case addressing whether or not the plaintiffs have standing for relief in the case, whether or not the county has sovereign immunity and whether or not injunctive relief can be granted under the law.
In the meantime, Ott said he expects the statue to remain in place until the legal issues have been resolved.
The Board of Commissioners’ vote last week to remove the statue was based on a motion to protect the monument after Chairman Marcello Banes said he had received threats to destroy or deface it.
Attorney King said he hopes the case goes to appeal so that the citizens of the state will have some clarity on the state law that protects such monuments.
“This statute in its current form is fairly new,” said King. “It was amended in 2019, so there isn’t case law about this statute as it now stands. And obviously it is very important to people on both sides of this issue throughout the state to know exactly what the statute requires, exactly what the statute prohibits, and exactly what rights it conveys.”
Communities throughout the state are facing similar controversies. The Henry County Board of Commissioners has voted to remove its Confederate monument within 60 days, and Rockdale County removed its statue under an executive order after Board of Commissioners Chairman Oz Nesbitt Sr. said he received threats that the statue would be damaged. The Sons of Confederate Veterans has filed suits challenging the actions in both Henry and Rockdale counties.
As the statue removal issue works its way through various courts, Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton said local law enforcement agencies will keep a watchful eye on the Square.
“(Sheriff Ezell Brown) and I have agreed to provide some presence up there to keep everything calm on the Square,” Cotton said.