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Portrait Prices
Taxpayers Foot The Bill To Preserve Judicial History
December 13, 2012

C L I C K   T O   P L A Y
What started as a way to commemorate the career of a retiring judge, who eventually didn't retire, has turned into a portrait project at the Kanawha County Judicial Annex.

A private donor paid four thousand dollars to create a portrait of Judge Paul Zakaib, who was expressing an interest to leave the bench. Zakaib ultimately stayed on the job. However, his colleagues learned of the portrait and thought it was a good idea.

"I think some of the other judges saw the portrait and know that other counties and other places in state government have portraits of the judges and other officials," Steve Hanley, Kanawha County Court Administrator said. "And so some of them decided they would like to have a portrait made at some time."

It was decided that it wasn't proper to take donations to pay for portraits of sitting judges, so taxpayers will be picking up the tab for six judicial portraits at $4000 each. That's a total of $24,000.

"Throughout many state and county offices there are portraits hanging of various officials and they just felt it was important to preserve that," Hanley said.

In Huntington, several paintings of past judges hang in Courtroom Number One These works of art were paid for by private donations.

"The paintings are done and the bar association has taken care of that for a number of years," Chris Tatum, Cabell County Manager said. "They hold a ceremony and they honor the particular judge who is retiring or has passed on, whatever the situation is. The bar association has typically taken care of that here in Cabell."

The same is true in Putnam County, where private donations paid for a pair of portraits in the new Judicial Building.

"We haven't had any for a number of years but previously when that was done it was done by a local bar association," Brian Donat, Putnam County Manager said. "They donated the portraits and we of course hung them."

The West Virginia Supreme Court is paying $4000 for a portrait of Justice Thomas McHugh, which will be displayed at his old workplace the Kanawha County courthouse.

Additionally, the past two years the supreme court spent $9,400 on the justice's official portraits. Also, in 2011 the court paid nearly $45,000 on group pictures of the justices with circuit and family court judges. Something that hadn't been done in two decades.

The court's administrator says spending the $55,000 on the pictures and Justice McHugh's portrait is a good investment.

"I would categorically and absolutely reject the notion that spending money on the portrait on the one hand and the group pictures on the other is a waste of taxpayer dollars," Steve Canterbury, West Virginia Supreme Court Administrator said. "I mean, the reality is that these are pieces of history. And if you don't take care of your history then you lose your democracy. So, it may seem like I'm overestimating the symbolic and emblematic value of pictures, but I think people who don't just don't get the picture."

Once all of the Kanawha County portraits are finished they will be displayed either in the Judicial Annex or across the street in the ceremonial courtroom.

There is one additional note to the story.

It's true that state supreme court is spending $4000 for the painting of Justice McHugh.

However, since March 2009, Justice McHugh has been paying the state about $6,700 a month because he refuses to take both his supreme court salary and his retirement benefits. McHugh said that would not be the right thing to do.

In all, Justice McHugh has paid the state treasury approximately $300,000 dollars since he returned to the bench.

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