Demonstrators in Philadelphia participate in a rally against white nationalism and other forms of racism and hate organized by the interfaith advocacy organization POWER, Aug. 16, 2017. (Photo: Michael Candelori/Shutterstock.com)
A prominent group of lawyers from firms including Cooley and Boies Schiller Flexner filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday on behalf of individuals injured in the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past summer.
The team of lawyers includes renowned litigators Roberta Kaplan, of the months-old Kaplan and Co., and Karen Dunn, a former associate counsel to President Barack Obama once-rumored to be Hillary Clinton’s top choice for general counsel. Also on the case are Cooley partners Alan Levine, David Mills and Robert Cahill. The lawsuit alleges various state and federal offenses by white supremacy groups and individuals during a march and rally Aug.11-12 in Charlottesville that turned violent, killing one person and injuring dozens others.
“The violence, suffering, and emotional distress that occurred in Charlottesville was a direct, intended, and foreseeable result of Defendants’ unlawful conspiracy,” the lawsuit said. “It was all according to plan—a plan they spent months working out and whose implementation they actively oversaw as events unfolded on the ground.”
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. The plaintiffs include Marissa Blair, a co-worker and friend of Heather Heyer, a paralegal who was killed when a man hit her with his car while she engaged in counter-protest against white supremacist groups. Other plaintiffs include undergraduate students, law students and staff at the University of Virginia and other residents of Charlottesville.
The defendants are more than two-dozen white supremacy and neo-Nazi groups, including Jason Kessler, the organizer of the event known as the Unite the Right rally, white supremacist Richard Spencer and Alex Fields Jr., the man accused of killing Heyer with his vehicle. Other organizational plaintiffs include the Vanguard America, the National Socialists Movement and the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
In an email, Mike Peinovich, one of the defendants, said “As far as I know these ‘lawsuits’ are hoaxes.”
The other defendants could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit asks for compensatory, statutory and punitive damages to be determined at trial, as well as whatever relief the court may deem necessary. Among the various claims, the complaint alleges the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to interfere with civil rights, in violation of federal law, as well as civil conspiracy to commit violence against others and intimidate or harass others because of their race, religion or ethnicity, in violation of Virginia state law.
“There is one thing about this case that should be made crystal-clear at the outset— the violence in Charlottesville was no accident,” the lawsuit said. “Under the pretext of a ‘rally,’ which they termed ‘Unite the Right,’ Defendants spent months carefully coordinating their efforts, on the internet and in person.
The FBI and Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are also actively investigating the events in Charlottesville, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in August.