Monument case rolls toward federal court trial

Published 10:10pm Saturday, October 12, 2013

A court case that arose from a city council decision to stop work on a historic monument could be complete by November. Both parties have agreed to a settlement conference in KTK Mining of Virginia vs. City of Selma, according to court documents.

The case began in August 2012, when the Selma City Council voted to halt construction on a Nathan Bedford Forrest monument after questions were raised about who owned the property at the center of Old Live Oak Cemetery.

Pat Godwin, of the United Daughters of Confederacy Chapter 53, contends the organization obtained the land in 1877, when the city of Selma ceded the land to a predecessor organization — the Ladies Memorial Association.

The city council voted to sell the property to the UDC for $60,000 in September with the stipulation that KTK Mining drop its lawsuit, but Godwin laughed at the proposition of purchasing the property when called after the meeting.

“I see no reason why the UDC should purchase the property when me already own it,” Godwin said.

The monument sits on a tract of land in Old Live Oak cemetery dedicated to Confederate soldiers, but the Forrest monument was originally unveiled in 2000 at the city-owned Vaughan-Smitherman Building. It was moved to Old Live Oak Cemetery after the monument was defaced with trash. Selma residents continued to protest the monument until March 2012, when the monument’s bust vanished. Subsequently, construction began to replace the stolen bust and construct what organizers called a more secure display.

Not only did city council vote to stop work, but protesters also forced concrete trucks to turn around, which cost KTK Mining to lose money, KTK Mining’s lawyer J. Wesley Kelly IV said.

“There are certain things that have cost my client money, but waiting isn’t really one of them,” Kelly said. “Other than the increase in the cost of materials, there are no real expenses associated with the delay. Certain constitutional rights were violated.”

Kelly said the due process and First Amendment rights are among the violations.

“The permit was suspended right away without allowing any opportunity to be heard,” Kelly said. “This was just something done by the city without any notice. He also certainly has a right to honor (Forrest) for the good things he has done.”

Kelly said one result of the Nov. 1 settlement conference must be an agreement to allow KTK Mining to complete construction, but he is willing to negotiate on the cost of reimbursement.

The city’s lawyers in the case, Rick A. Howard and April W. McKay, did not respond to requests for comment.

If the settlement conference isn’t successful, jury selection is set for the first week of February in a case that Ward 1 councilman Cecil Williamson said could cost the city more than $300,000.

“I am more concerned with the city losing money than anything else,” Williamson said. “A lawsuit like that could really put the city in a bind.”

But the trial will not take place in Selma. U.S. District Judge Kristi K. Dubose, of the Southern District of Alabama, moved the trial to Mobile “due to safety and security concerns with the Selma Federal Courthouse,” according to court documents.

Williamson said he was unsure why the Selma courthouse wouldn’t be safe enough to hold trial. Kelly, on the other hand, said protesters could make enough noise to affect jurors.

“It doesn’t take but one or two people to make a lot of noise,” Kelly said. “There has been protesting involved in the case. It may just be making a good decision so that the jurors aren’t distracted.”

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