COVINGTON — The Georgia Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling in Newton County Superior Court that could bring the county a step closer to removing the Confederate statue on the Historic Square.
The Appeals Court issued its decision July 22, upholding a Superior Court ruling by Chief Judge John Ott, who found that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring their claims for damages against the county, and even if they did, the county was protected by sovereign immunity at that time, which would mean that the Superior Court did not have jurisdiction in the case.
As part of his ruling, Ott stipulated that the statue would remain in place until the appeals process has been exhausted. Statue preservationists have said they will take the case to the Georgia Supreme Court, if necessary.
The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted in July 2020 to remove the Confederate monument from the center of the Covington Square for the stated purpose of protecting it from vandalism.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans, General George “Tig” Anderson Camp; Georgia Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans; and Newton County resident Tiffany Davis Humphries filed complaints for damages and injunctive relief against the county.
On Sept. 14 Judge Ott dismissed the two petitions, and the plaintiffs filed appeals with the Georgia Court of Appeals.
Kyle King, the attorney representing the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Monday that a notice has already been filed with the Court of Appeals requesting that the case be considered by the Georgia Supreme Court. King said the Supreme Court will base its decision on whether or not the case is deemed a matter of great public interest. He said because the ruling could have an impact throughout the state, he believes that it is.
“We are hoping the Supreme Court will take up the case and give us a more favorable ruling,” said King.
King also said he “feels confident that before Judge Ott would allow (the statue) to be removed he would wait for (the appeals process) to be fully completed.”
In affirming Ott’s decision, the Court of Appeals found that the appellants did not have standing for damages because they had not shown they suffered “an injury in fact” and that the county’s decision to remove the statue had not directly affected them, apart from their special interest in the monument.
“These vague claims of ‘injury’ are, then, far too abstract to confer standing on the appellants,” the ruling stated. “Accordingly, because each of the appellants lacked standing, the trial court correctly dismissed all of these actions.”
Because the court ruled that the appellants did not have standing, the judges did not address the issue of sovereign immunity.
Voters in the state of Georgia approved a change to the state constitution last year that would waive sovereign immunity and allow actions for declaratory and equitable relief. The law did not take effect until Jan. 1, 2021.
Although the change to the constitution, which was approved by voters by a wide margin, does not apply to the Newton County statue case, King said he believes it should be considered.
“We do think that it indicates pretty strongly the way the Legislature and the people of Georgia feel about this issue,” he said.