Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

VMFA Trepass Case Update

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 2, 2013

Lewis2Norwood B. “Tripp” Lewis III will be arraigned at 9 a.m. Monday in Richmond on a Class 1 Misdemeanor charge of “trespass after having been forbidden to do so” (Code of Virginia § 18.2-119). This is a more serious charge than (say) creeping around a cemetery at night, or trespass on school or church property which, unless compounded by other bad acts or intent, are considered lower-level misdemeanors. Lewis was apparently charged with a more serious offense by virtue of the fact that he had been repeatedly warned off the property previously. Lewis is expected to enter a plea of not guilty, in which case a trial date will be set by the court.

In thinking about this case, I realize that I have an analogous circumstance myself. Lewis’ actions, on January 12, were claimed by him to be in honor of his ancestor, who was admitted to what was then the Confederate Home on that property. I have a Confederate ancestor who settled here in Texas after the war, whose property was bought many years later by the state, and a public university built on that land. I’ve even read that the site where my ancestor’s home once stood is now occupied by the university’s student center.

There are similarities with the situation at VMFA. The land in Texas is owned by the state, but administered under law by a publicly-chartered organization, with its own security and the authority to set its own rules. The spot where my relative’s house stood is, within the context of a university, a public space. Could I march up and down in front of the student center with a Confederate flag and uniform to “honor” that relative? Sure. Do I have an inherent right to do so, even if campus police order me off the premises? Does the claim that I’m “honoring my ancestor” provide an affirmative defense against what is otherwise defined by state law as a criminal act? I doubt many courts, at any level and in any jurisdiction, are going to buy that argument. For that matter, I doubt many would even entertain it as a defense, since the charge Lewis is facing — “trespass after having been forbidden to do so” — is extremely narrow, and easily provable by the prosecution. (“Did you tell him not to come back on the property?” “Yes.” “Did he?” “Yes.”) Even on the larger issue of whether Lewis and other Flaggers are within their rights to protest on the VMFA grounds, some of their supporters believe that violates the law. One true Confederate, whose commitment to the Flaggers’ cause has never been doubted, was blunt in his assessment: “the Flaggers ‘BY LAW’ have no right to go on VMFA property.

Mr. Lewis has a lot to think about this weekend. He has an absolute right to pursue this case and defend his actions as best he can. But I cannot see it ending well for either him or his supporters in the end.


Update, February 4: Lewis received a continuance Monday until new hearing, now scheduled for March 22, with the notation “appoint attorney.” I don’t know if that indicates a request for more time to hire a private attorney, or a request to have the court appoint one for him.


Update, February 7: As Dave Tatum points out in the comments, at Monday’s hearing the state and the VMFA requested an order barring Lewis from the property, which was denied. Both the motion and the court’s denial seem routine to me in a trespassing case of this sort.



16 Responses

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  1. kevlvn said, on February 2, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Will he be able to bring a film crew into the courtroom? 🙂

    • Andy Hall said, on February 2, 2013 at 6:48 pm

      I’m waiting for Nancy Grace to weigh in on this one.

  2. Cotton Boll Conspiracy said, on February 3, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    Methinks Mr. Lewis’ forefather would be more than a little embarrassed by his descendant’s blatant ploy for attention.

    • Andy Hall said, on February 3, 2013 at 8:00 pm

      It’s good to be remembered by the generations who come after you. But many, many more productive ways to go about it.

      • Cotton Boll Conspiracy said, on February 3, 2013 at 8:08 pm

        I’ll take eternal anonymity over being remembered as a Grade-A Jackass.

        • Josephine Lindsay Bass said, on February 8, 2013 at 9:37 pm

          [Deleted by the moderator.]

  3. Cotton Boll Conspiracy said, on February 4, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Regarding your update: Why do I get the sneaky suspicion he may try to represent himself?

    • Andy Hall said, on February 4, 2013 at 2:31 pm

      I don’t know the specific reason given for the continuance, although apparently it revolves around obtaining representation for the defendant. At this point he did not (or was not allowed to) even enter a plea. Like everyone else accused of a crime, Lewis needs to have good representation in court. There is an effort underway now to raise funds for legal counsel for him, and good representation doesn’t come cheap.

      I don’t think Lewis has much of a defense on the current charge, in part because I wouldn’t expect a criminal court judge to allow in a lot of ancillary material about the VMFA and the Pelham Chapel lease with the SCV and so on, which are all properly matters for the civil courts. Lewis needs a good criminal defense attorney, but that’s not necessarily one who’s going to tell him or his supporters what they want to hear.

  4. Dave Tatum said, on February 7, 2013 at 8:21 am

    AWWWWW Andy, I’m blushin you gave me a mention (kinda)- how nice.

    I ain’t gonna back outta what I said, the law is the law!

    But the law says ya can’t protest, it don’t say nothin about honoring an ancestor !

    Now I heard through the grapevine (this ain’t official ) that the VMFA and Commonwealth’s attorney tried to have Mr. Lewis banned from the property, the Judge shot em down !

    Watch ya think about them apples ?


    • Andy Hall said, on February 7, 2013 at 8:40 am

      Hey, Dave, I’d heard that, too. Probably should add it, for the sake of completeness. As for what I think of them apples, I think a motion like that on the part of the prosecution and the complainant are routine in serious trespassing cases. Probably the denial of such motion is fairly routine, as well.

      Now, my turn to ask you a question: what specifically was the issue with Lewis’ representation that he got a continuance on Monday?

      • Dave Tatum said, on February 7, 2013 at 11:23 am

        I got no idea about the representation thing, you know as much or more than I do.
        I do know that “It’s a fool that Represents himself Legally,” or some saying to that effect !
        As for your statement “There is an effort underway now to raise funds for legal counsel for him, and good representation doesn’t come cheap”. where is the Pay-Pal account for this ? 🙂

        • Andy Hall said, on February 7, 2013 at 11:42 am

          I don’t know if there was a PayPal address, but you certainly know how to get in touch with the right people for that. Lewis has lots of outspoken defenders online, which is fine, but I’ve found them to be long on passionate rhetoric, but very short on the details that will be what actually decides the case in a court of law. As just one example, I don’t recall seeing any that have gone to the trouble of specifying exactly what part Virginia Code Lewis is charged with violating, which is pretty basic to any understanding of the case. I do believe there’s a real disconnect between what Lewis’ supporters want this case to be “about,” and what the General District Court will allow it to be “about.”

          • Dave Tatum said, on February 7, 2013 at 8:46 pm

            I’m just guessing but — @
            I posted the statute, now this is just a “guess” but part “b” seems to be what could apply.

            • Andy Hall said, on February 7, 2013 at 8:55 pm

              The court docket says Code of Virginia § 18.2-119, “trespass after having been forbidden to do so.” The actual statute is linked up at the top of the post. It’s a Class 1 misdemeanor, so pretty serious.

              • Dave Tatum said, on February 8, 2013 at 2:12 am

                see I told ya you knew just as much or “more” than Me !

              • Andy Hall said, on February 8, 2013 at 10:06 am

                @ Dave:

                That’s why I say, the folks who are publicly supporting Lewis are not being very forthcoming with specific and detailed information about his case, at least from what I’ve seen.

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