By Bobby Blanchard
A Travis County judge has denied a request for a temporary restraining order to prevent the University of Texas from removing a statue of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis.
A lawyer for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the group that sued to prevent the removal, said Thursday after a three-hour court hearing that he has not yet decided whether the group would appeal. UT plans to move the statue some time in the next few days.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans had sued the school and UT-Austin President Gregory Fenves, arguing that removing the statue would violate the will of George Littlefield -- one of UT's biggest donors during the university's early years. Littlefield left money to the school for the statue's construction.
The heritage group also argued that UT needed permission from the Legislature or a state agency before moving the statue.
Kirk Lyons, the attorney representing the Sons of Confederate Veterans, brought five witnesses Thursday to make his case that moving the statue would damage it.
"You're dealing with an 82-year-old bronze," testified Glenn Umberger, a recent graduate from the Savannah College of Art and Design. "Bronze by nature is fragile. Because they have not been properly maintained, they are probably more susceptible to damage."
Lyons also sought to prove that Jefferson Davis was a resident of Texas, meaning UT would need to seek permission to remove the statues. Egon Tausch, a historian and a UT alum, argued Davis was a Texan because he owned land in the state.
"It is just absolutely silly to move those statues based on someone being offended," said David Stephen Littlefield, a Montana resident and a descendant of George Littlefield.
Representing UT, lawyers from the attorney general's office responded with testimony from Patrick Sheehy, a project specialist for Vault Fine Art Services who was contracted to move the statue.
He said that the statues were not in poor condition and that he had not damaged a single bronze statue in 30 years.
"If I ever damage a sculpture, my business is over because you can't have that reputation," Sheehy said.
Announcing her decision, Judge Karin Crump said the Sons of Confederate Veterans had failed to prove Jefferson Davis was a Texan.
She also said the "overwhelming" evidence presented showed the statues could be moved safely.
The decision to move the statue followed the recommendation of a task force that met over the summer. Fenves announced earlier this month that the Jefferson Davis statue would be moved to an exhibit in the school's Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.
Fenves also announced the university would move a statue of former President Woodrow Wilson to preserve symmetry in the placement of statues on campus.
(c)2015 The Dallas Morning News