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April hearing tentatively planned on appeal of Covington statue removal ruling
Supporters of 114-year-old memorial hosting online and in-person fundraisers
Statue hearing1
From left, county government attorney Megan Martin, Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) attorney Kyle King, and Newton County resident Tiffany Humphries during a July 20, 2020, hearing on an injunction request to halt the removal of the Confederate memorial statue from the Covington Square. - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — A tentative hearing date has been set for a state appeals court to hear arguments on a judge’s September ruling favoring the county government’s planned removal of a Confederate monument from the Covington Square.

The Georgia Court of Appeals has told county government attorneys that oral arguments in the case tentatively will be heard April 13 in Atlanta, attorneys confirmed.

However, court officials said they would send the final, scheduled date to them sometime before April 13.

Meanwhile, one of the plaintiffs seeking to halt the removal of the “To the Confederate Dead of Newton County” statue from a county-owned park in the middle of the Covington Square is raising funds for the effort through an auction and online fund-raising site.

Tiffany Humphries said on a virtual news conference Thursday, Feb. 18, that she planned an auction of a 30-inch by 40-inch photo of the 114-year-old statue to raise money for attorney’s fees in her effort to overturn the ruling for the county in Newton County Superior Court.

She said she planned an event Sunday, Feb. 21, from 1 to 5 p.m. at Five O’Clock Sports Bar & Grill on Turner Lake Road that will feature live music and the auction. 

Humphries’ attorney, Walker Chandler, also began a fundraiser on the crowdfunding website

The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted on July 14 to remove the monument despite Humphries' filing of an injunction to halt the board's action the day before.

Local and state Sons of Confederate Veterans groups filed similar injunctions soon after the board's vote.

Ott then presided over a hearing in late July on the two groups' requests and told county officials he did not want the statue removed until after all appeals had been exhausted in the case.

On Sept. 14, he dismissed the complaints from Humphries and the Confederate Veterans groups.

The judge wrote that Humphries and the Confederate Veterans groups failed to show in their filings they had legal standing to seek damages from the county because of the planned removal.

Ott said neither proved they suffered “actual damages” — defined as being injured in a “concrete” way rather than in an “abstract” way, such as affecting their belief in a cause or religion.

“Even were the Confederate Monument removed, it is questionable if the petitioners would have standing,” he wrote.

Ott also wrote that the two groups claimed a 2019 state law gave them legal standing to sue for damages despite there being no damages. 

The law also removed a provision allowing injunctions against a local government for such actions, he said.

The 2019 law was an amendment to existing law that added requirements local governments must meet before they could remove memorials to fallen soldiers in any past war.

Humphries’ attorney, Walker Chandler, said Thursday, Feb. 18, he believed there are issues on which his client has valid arguments for throwing out Ott’s decision and keeping the statue in place.

“We think we have a right to ask injunctive relief,” Chandler said. “That doesn’t even call for actual damages.”

Sons of Confederate Veterans attorney Kyle King said the order was “contrary to law and the evidence” after he filed the groups’ appeal with the state court.

County Chairman Marcello Banes said in September that Ott determined “our legal argument was sound and just” and the Board of Commissioners stood by its July 14 decision to remove the statue.

Banes has called for replacing the statue with a fountain with a “One Newton” theme honoring all the cities and the county.