Updated at 6:45 p.m.
A judge has voided the UNC System’s $2.5 million settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans over the Silent Sam statue. District Court Judge Allen Baddour heard arguments this morning from attorneys for the UNC System, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, students and alumni.
Baddour sided with attorneys for the students and alumni who argued the Sons of Confederate Veterans did not have legal standing to sue the UNC System over the statue's future. In December, Baddour decided to reopen the case that gave the pro-Confederate group $2.5 million to maintain the Silent Sam statue that formerly stood on UNC Chapel Hill’s campus until protesters pulled it down.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans filed their original lawsuit shortly after the contemporary United Daughters of the Confederacy agreed to transfer to them whatever property rights the group had to the statue. Members of the 1897 United Daughters of the Confederacy helped organize and raise funds to erect the statue dedicated to fallen Confederate soldiers in 1913.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans demanded in their lawsuit for the monument to be put back up. The UNC System immediately settled, and Baddour signed off on the deal.
Now Baddour is siding with UNC Chapel Hill students and alumni who challenged the settlement.
Attorneys for the students and alumni presented historical evidence showing UNC Chapel Hill officials and alumni raised the majority of the funds for the statue, while the United Daughters of the Confederacy contributed a third of the cost.
“The University, not the UDC entered into a contract with the sculptor. The University, not the UDC, paid the sculptor,” said Burton Craige, the lawyer representing the alumni. “UDC could not have made a gift of something it never owned.”
Craige argued the university has always owned the monument and that the pro-Confederate group had no property rights to be able to sue the UNC System.
Judge Baddour asked attorneys if they could name a party that would have legal standing to challenge the UNC System if it chose to remove the statue from UNC Chapel Hill of its own accord. Baddour suggested the UNC System itself could do so, under a provision in the North Carolina monuments law that provides exceptions for monuments that pose a risk to public safety.
Then Baddour ruled the settlement was void.
Attorney Ripley Rand, who represents both the UNC System and UNC Board of Governors, responded to the judge’s decision.
“While this was not the result we had hoped for, we respect the Court’s ruling in this case,” said Rand. He added that the UNC Board of Governors “will go back to work to find a lasting and lawful solution to the dispute over the monument.”
Some of the students and alumni who challenged the settlement attended the hearing, including several of the UNC Black Pioneers, a group of African American alumni who broke the color barrier to attend UNC Chapel Hill in the 1960s.
“That was a judgment, a decision, an agreement that never should have been reached in the first place, and I’m so glad that it has been reversed,” said UNC Black Pioneers Chairman Walter Jackson.
The $2.5 million trust fund established in the settlement for the caretaking of the monument will return to UNC Chapel Hill. The Sons of Confederate Veterans spent $52,000 from that fund on attorney fees before the court froze spending. Baddour said it was "premature" for him to order what to do with the spent funds just after he ruled he does not have jurisdiction over the case.
“I have gone to the edge of my comfort zone as far as talking about the trust,” Baddour said.
Rand has until next week to request for Judge Baddour to give guidance on what to do with the statue.