A Civil District Court judge ruled Wednesday that New Orleans officials can proceed with removing an equestrian statue of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard near the entrance to City Park, denying a request to hold up the move over questions about whether the city really owns the statue.
Judge Kern Reese declined to grant a preliminary injunction requested by Richard Marksbury. Reese also had rejected a request for a temporary restraining order to keep the monument in place Monday.
Marksbury, an associate professor of Asian studies at Tulane University, said after the ruling that he would consider taking his case to the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal and the state Supreme Court if necessary.
In making his ruling, Reese noted that various lawsuits over the Beauregard statue as well as monuments to Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and the Reconstruction-era insurrection known as the Battle of Liberty Place have been litigated for more than a year.
"This has gone on an inordinate amount of time," Reese said.
Citing rulings in those cases, he cast doubt on claims that the city does not actually own the Beauregard statue or the land on which it sits.
Franklin Jones, Marksbury's attorney, had argued that the century-old Beauregard statue was given to the City Park Improvement Association, an independent board, and not to the city. That, he said, meant the statue and the land under it could be the property of the association or the state, which oversees that group.
Previous lawsuits by supporters of keeping the monuments on public view have questioned the ownership of all four statues, but the courts have found their arguments unconvincing.
With regard specifically to the Beauregard monument, the courts have cited a Louisiana Supreme Court decision ruling that City Park's property belongs to the city of New Orleans.
But Jones said that case, which focused on Audubon Park, should not set a precedent for ownership. And, he argued, the portion of land on which the statue sits should be excluded from that earlier ruling because it was purchased later than the rest of the park by the City Park Improvement Association and was not bought by or granted to the city.
City Park officials have not directly addressed questions about whether the monument sits on park land, though they have said they're looking into the issue.
In arguing that New Orleans owns the land beneath the statue, Adam Swensek, a lawyer with the City Attorney's Office, pointed both to previous rulings and to the fact that the traffic circle containing the statue is on a public street owned by the city.
He also asked why state Attorney General Jeff Landry, a frequent critic of Mayor Mitch Landrieu and a supporter of the monuments, has not filed his own suit to stop such a removal on state property if there was merit to Marksbury's arguments.
And, in light of the tense dueling protests Sunday around the Lee monument in Lee Circle and scuffles at the Davis statue last week, Swensek argued that holding up the removal process would further inflame tensions.
"It's not Professor Marksbury that has to stand out there in a bulletproof vest between groups of protesters," Swensek said.
The work of removing the monuments was stalled for a year by various courts. It began in earnest last month when the Liberty Place monument was taken down in the middle of the night.
The city has not provided a timeline for the removal of the three other monuments, citing threats made against contractors working on the project.