Feb. 12 (UPI) -- A judge on Wednesday nullified a settlement reached late last year for the University of North Carolina to hand over a controversial statute and $2.5 million for its display and preservation to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Orange Country Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour, who signed off on the agreement, reversed his earlier decision by ruling that the Confederate group had no legal standing to bring its initial lawsuit against the university over ownership of the Silent Sam statue.
The statue -- erected on UNC-Chapel Hill in 1913 to commemorate the school's students who fought for the Confederate Army during the Civil War -- was torn down by protesters in August 2018. In late November, the university announced it had made the agreement to give the Confederate organization Silent Sam -- an agreement that was announced seven minutes after the Sons of Confederate Veterans had filed their initial complaint.
Wednesday's decision was the product of legal action challenging the agreement's legal basis brought by five UNC students and a faculty member represented by the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
The organization said the settlement was based upon a meritless lawsuit that "the UNC Board of Governors and SCV had colluded on for the sole purpose of the payout."
"Today is an important victory for the people in confronting the false and divisive Lost Cause narrative and the racist ideology it entrenches," said Elizabeth Haddix, a managing attorney with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Ripley Rand, outside counsel representing the UNC System and its board of governors in the case, said it was not the decision they were looking for but they will respect the court's ruling.
"Judge Baddour gave us a fair hearing, and he afforded all parties the necessary time and consideration to be heard," he said in a statement. "The Board of Governors knew from the very beginning that this was a difficult but needed solution to meet all their goals to protect public safety of the University community, restore normality to campus and be compliant with the Monuments Law."
He said the Board of Governors will continue to seek a lawful solution to the statue's dispute.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans have been asked for comment.
UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in a statement following the decision that the future of the statue is now unknown.
"Today's court ruling leaves many questions to be answered regarding the ownership and disposition of the monument," he said. "However, I stand behind and reaffirm what I have said for over two years: The monument does not belong on our campus."