LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – An attorney representing a group called Friends of Louisville Public Art on Monday asked a Louisville judge to order the city to restore the John B. Castleman statue to its long-time location in Cherokee Triangle.

The request by attorney Steve Porter comes shortly after the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that lower courts erred when they agreed the city properly removed the controversial statue from its site near Cherokee Park in 2020.

Porter successfully argued to the high court that two commissioners on the Historic Landmarks Commission, which voted to remove the statue, had a conflict of interest as they were hired by former Mayor Greg Fischer, who wanted the statue removed.

“Without the illegal decision of the Landmark Commission, that statue would have never been removed, so now it should go back,” Porter said to Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Wilcox in a hearing Monday. “There’s no reason for it not to.”

Porter also requested Wilcox order the city to reimburse the plaintiffs for all costs incurred in the legal proceedings, including attorneys’ fees.

An attorney for the city said the motion was “premature” as the Supreme Court's April 27 decision does not become final until 21 days after the ruling.

Judge Wilcox ruled the motions will be taken up again after the high court’s order becomes final.

Both sides may issue written motions during that time. 

After the Supreme Court ruling, Kevin Trager, a spokesman for Mayor Craig Greenberg said in a statement:

“Louisville Metro Government has no plans to place the Castleman statue back in its original location nor any interest in doing so. We are exploring our options on what to do with the statue and will keep the community informed as we move forward.”

The thrust of the case was not whether the statue of Castleman — a depiction of him riding a horse, dressed in civilian clothes — served as a symbol of "racist or bigoted ideology," as Fischer has said, but whether the city followed due process in removing it.

The high court agreed in a 6-1 vote that “the decision-making participation in this matter by Louisville Metro employees is an inherent and intolerable conflict of interest.

"... Their employment and their being asked to sit in review of an application filed by their employer were sufficient to raise a reasonable question of impartiality such that recusal was required as a matter of law,” Chief Justice Laurence B. Vanmeter wrote for the majority.

In addition, the high court noted that the Landmarks Commission did not issue a findings of fact to remove the statue.

The monument in the Highlands was the center of controversy for years because its critics argue that Castleman is closely associated with the Confederacy and white supremacy. The statue, which was erected in 1913, was vandalized numerous times.

The statue currently sits in a gated government lot, covered in bright orange spray paint.

But the group fighting to save the statue has argued that Castleman redeemed himself later in his life, renouncing the confederate cause, calling on white soldiers to salute black officers in World War I and helping to establish Louisville’s park system.

The high court agreed in June of last year to hear arguments after the state Court of Appeals upheld a Jefferson Circuit Court judge’s ruling dismissing the lawsuit.

The appeals court ruled, in part, there were "no facts to support the conflict of interest claim."

Fischer announced the removal of the Castleman and George Prentice statues in 2018, saying they served as racist symbols. The Prentice statue was removed from its spot in front of the downtown library in December 2018.

On May 9, 2019, Louisville's Landmark Commission voted to remove the Castleman statue.

The Landmark Commission's vote followed a January 2019 vote by the Cherokee Triangle Review Commission that ended in a tie, meaning the statue could not be removed.

That's when the city appealed to the Landmarks Commission, which gave the green light for the statue's removal.

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Jason Riley is a criminal justice reporter for WDRB.com. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after 14 years with The Courier-Journal. He graduated from Western Kentucky University. Jason can be reached at 502-585-0823 and jriley@wdrb.com.