News: Quick Takes

Judge tosses $2.5 million Silent Sam settlement

McCorkle Place at UNC Chapel Hill, where the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam stood for more than a century. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)
McCorkle Place at UNC Chapel Hill, where the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam stood for more than a century. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)

A Superior Court judge has reversed course on a $2.5-million settlement granting a Confederate veterans group ownership of Silent Sam

Judge Allen Baddour threw out the deal during a hearing Wednesday, Feb. 12, about whether the Sons of the Confederate Veterans had legal standing to sue in the case. The judge ruled the group didn’t have standing. 

Silent Sam has been a headache for the university system since August 2018, when protesters tore down the Confederate monument, which stood on the UNC Chapel Hill campus for more than a century. The UNC Board of Governors has labored over a decision about what to do with the controversial monument. 

A consent agreement between the SCV and the university system was supposed to resolve the matter, but it quickly drew scrutiny. 

Baddour signed off on an agreement the day before Thanksgiving, granting SCV ownership of Silent Sam. UNC Chapel Hill provided a $2.5-million trust to help pay for a facility to house the monument. Under the agreement, the facility wouldn’t be placed in any of the 14 counties housing a UNC campus. 

The settlement came minutes after the lawsuit was filed. Documents suggest the settlement was pre-planned. Further complicating the matter is that much of the discussions around Silent Sam took place in private. The UNC Board of Governors has long lacked transparency

Baddour decided in December to reopen the case. 

Lawyers Elizabeth Haddix, with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, and Burton Craige, representing 88 UNC Chapel Hill alumni, challenged the legality of the settlement. 

The two argued the Confederate group had no ownership interest in Silent Sam, giving it no standing to sue. The university system, not the SCV, owns the monument. 

Boyd Sturges III, a lawyer representing the SCV, and Ripley Rand, a lawyer for the university system, argued the settlement was decided in good faith. 

SCV didn’t need to have standing, just a colorable claim to standing to file a lawsuit, Sturges said. 

But Baddour disagreed. The judge ruled the Confederate group had no standing in the case and voided the settlement. 

What will happen to the trust is unclear. SCV has the money. More than $50,000 has been paid from the trust, Sturges said. WUNC reported the money was spent on lawyer fees. 

The parties have until Feb. 17 to send affidavits to the court to determine next steps for Silent Sam.