Order blocking removal of Pensacola Confederate monument extended until Sept. 7

Jim Little Pensacola News JournalPublished 7:00 AM EDT Aug 27, 2020A federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit se

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A federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit seeking to block Pensacola from removing its Confederate monument will stay in federal court and has extended the restraining order preventing the removal of the monument until Sept. 7.

Meanwhile, the owner of a company that offers historic tours in Pensacola is attempting to join those suing to stop the monument's removal, arguing his company will be hurt by the city's actions.

U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers ruled Friday that the restraining order blocking the removal of the monument will stay in place for at least two weeks, and on Tuesday, he ruled that the city followed proper civil procedure when it had the lawsuit originally filed in state court moved to federal court.

The Ladies Memorial Association, the Stephen Mallory Camp 1315 Sons of Confederate Veterans, Save Our Southern Heritage Florida Chapter and Veterans Monuments of America sued the city of Pensacola in July to block the removal of the Confederate monument on Palafox Street on the same day the City Council voted to remove the monument.

The lawsuit argues that removal of the monument would violate the groups' constitutional rights, as well as state and federal law.

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Florida First Judicial Circuit Court Judge Gary Bergosh issued a temporary restraining order preventing the city from removing the monument or blocking it from public view unless it was done to prevent vandalism.

The group filed a motion for contempt against the city, alleging a blue tarp that now covers the monument violated Bergosh's order. Meanwhile, the city filed an action to have the case transferred to federal court because of the constitutional issues in the lawsuit.

Rodgers' ruling Tuesday means the lawsuit will continue to play out in federal court.

The federal court is still weighing the contempt issue, along with a motion from the city to dissolve the restraining order. Rodgers said because those issues are still pending, he finds "good cause" to extend the order to Sept. 7 to allow time for all responses from both parties in the case to be filed.

David McCallister, an attorney representing the groups suing the city, filed an amended, slimmed-down complaint arguing that the city violated public trust when it voted to remove the monument and that the removal violates Florida's state constitutional rights of free speech and religion, as well as historic preservation laws.

The amended lawsuit against the city also adds a new plaintiff, Wesley Odom, and his company Go Retro, to the lawsuit. Go Retro offers bus tours to historic sites throughout the Pensacola area.

McCallister said in the amended complaint that on top of violating free speech rights of all the plaintiffs, Odom's business will also be harmed by the removal of the monument, which is the final stop on its "Civil War Tour."

Odom was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.

"(Pensacola's) removal of the Cenotaph will eliminate the main attraction on (Go) Retro's 'Civil War Tours' reducing the revenue from this particular tour, and threatening elimination of the tour altogether," McCallister wrote in the complaint.

In a filing with the court, attorneys for the city said they would be filing a motion opposing the amendment to the lawsuit and adding Odom as a plaintiff. The city must respond to the amended complaint by Sept. 8.

The city has already filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that all of the current plaintiffs lack standing to sue the city over the removal. The city has asked Rodgers to rule on those motions before moving forward in the case.

Jim Little can be reached at jwlittle@pnj.com and 850-208-9827.

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