Judge allows Forrest suit

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 11, 2002

A Mobile judge has breathed new life into a Selma controversy that appeared dead more than a year ago.

U.S. District Judge Brevard Hand has ruled the Friends of Forrest, a group that erected and placed a Nathan Bedford Forrest monument on the grounds of the Smitherman Building, has a right to file suit against the city of Selma on four different counts.

The city had asked Hand to dismiss the major issues of the Friends of Forrest suit against the city.

Hand denied the city’s request and said the Friends of Forrest can sue on the following grounds:

Those items, listed by Hand, do not convict the city of any wrongdoing. All Hand’s order does is allow the suit against the city to move to trial.

Cecil Williamson, president of Friends of Forrest, at one time wondered if Hand would ever rule on the city’s motion. After the judge’s order, Williamson said he still would like to see the Friends of Forrest and the city of Selma reach an agreement.

“Repeatedly, we have offered, through our attorneys, to mediate this dispute,” Williamson said. “The city has refused and it is costing us all a lot of money.”

Jimmy Nunn, attorney for the city of Selma, said the firm of Gamble, Gamble and Calame has handled this case and had not had time Wednesday to make an opinion.

“They want to look through [Hand’s order] tonight and will make a statement on it tomorrow,” Nunn said.

Perkins did not return phone calls Wednesday afternoon concerning the judge’s order.

According to Williamson, the second and third points of Hand’s order are the most important in the lawsuit.

“The second point says that the city took something that didn’t belong to them,” Williamson said of city officials moving the monument from the Smitherman Building to Old Live Oak Cemetery. “We never gave the monument to the city.”

On the third point, the Friends of Forrest contend they had a contract with the city of Selma and the board of the Smitherman Building to put the monument on those grounds. Hand’s ruling allows that argument to be brought in a trial.

In the first point of the Friends of Forrest suit, the group claims the city did not apply the law equally to them.

“The city let people vandalize that monument and they didn’t prosecute them,” Williamson said.

The final point in the suit suggests Perkins defamed the Friends of Forrest by saying Martin had been threatened.

“That was another misrepresentation by the mayor,” Williamson said.

Martin, who is recovering from abdominal surgery, said Perkins was right in his statement to a TV reporter and the Selma Police.

“I did receive threats, and I still have the letters,” Martin said. “It was nasty, nasty stuff.”

Hand’s ruling did not indicate when a trial would be held. Williamson also said he did not know when the case would be sent to trial.

“I hope we can mediate through this thing,” he said. “We want the monument back at the Smitherman Building.”