A federal court judge in Charlottesville, Virginia, ruled Friday against relocating the upcoming trial scheduled in a civil suit involving the deadly “Unite the Right” rally that happened there in 2017.
U.S. District Court Judge Norman K. Moon, a Clinton appointee, denied motions filed by defendants in the case, Sines v. Kessler, and said Charlottesville is the proper venue for trial.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs, including several Charlottesville residents, filed the lawsuit in Oct. 2017, less than two months after the “Unite the Right” rally descended into chaos and led to three deaths.
Defendants, including two dozen rally organizers, participants and others, are accused of racially motived violent conspiracy under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and violating other federal and state laws.
Several defendants recently proposed moving the trial from Charlottesville to another federal courthouse within the Western District of Virginia, such as Lynchburg or Roanoke.
The judge’s nine-page order denies those requests, clearing the way for proceedings to continue in Charlottesville where the rally occurred. The trial is currently scheduled to start in October 2021.
“We are very pleased that the Court agreed that Charlottesville is the right place for this trial to take place,” said Roberta Kaplan, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “At the time nearly four years ago, all of our plaintiffs lived, worked or studied in Charlottesville, many still do, all of them still have friends and family in the Charlottesville area, and Charlottesville – of course – is where the relevant events took place.”
Jason Kessler, the organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally and the lead defendant in the lawsuit, said in a social media post that he was not expecting the judge to rule in favor of relocating the trial.
“It’s unfortunate but not unexpected,” Mr. Kessler reacted to the judge’s decision to deny the defendants’ motions to transfer venue. “I don’t think he‘s ruled our way on anything,” he said on Twitter.
Mr. Kessler initially billed “Unite the Right” as a rally held to protest the planned removal of Confederate monuments on display in Charlottesville. The event attracted far-right extremists from across the U.S., including white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Fights erupted between participants and counterprotesters before the rally ever officially began, and three people were dead before the day was over: a local paralegal was murdered when a rally-goer drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters; two Virginia state troopers also died in a helicopter crash that occurred as they attempted to monitor the chaos.
The judge said in his ruling that several factors weigh in favor of keeping the trial in Charlottesville, among them its direct association with the events that transpired in August 2017.
“The Court finds that the interests of justice factor continues to support holding this trial in Charlottesville rather than transferring it, so that the trial may take place in the community most directly affected by the Unite the Right rally,” he wrote in part of the ruling.