Courtroom portraits discussed

Published 10:23 am Tuesday, September 6, 2016

WINTON – Federal, state and county courthouses that dot America’s landscape have long made a practice of publically displaying portraits of judicial and law enforcement officials.

While that mainstream practice is widely accepted, who makes the decision of choosing the individuals so honored to have their portrait displayed on the walls of justice?

In the case of Hertford County’s new courthouse, that decision may rest upon whether or not the county’s Board of Commissioners opt to accept a set of suggestions from the district’s Senior Superior Court Judge.

At their most recent meeting, the commissioners listened while District 6 Superior Court Judge Cy Grant presented a proposal that set forth the possible guidelines for hanging portraits in the two courtrooms of the county’s new courthouse, now open for just over one year.

At the outset of his presentation, Judge Grant stressed to the commissioners that his suggestions were merely a proposal at this point.

“This is a working document, a template that can be changed,” he said. “In the end it’s my request that you, the commissioners, adopt this policy as amended by you.”

He added that the idea of hanging a portrait in such a prominent place brings honor to that individual.

“That honor is first and foremost due to being a citizen of Hertford County who has distinguished himself or herself as a judge,” Grant said.

Judge Grant said from speaking to officials in other counties he learned that no one had such a policy regarding the hanging of a portrait in a courtroom.

“It was basically that someone thought it was a good idea for a particular judge’s portrait to be hung and court personnel and the county went along with that idea,” he shared. “Personally I feel there needs to be some guidelines to follow.”

Judge Grant said he consulted with Charles “Chuck” Revelle, a Murfreesboro attorney who serves as Hertford County local government’s legal counsel, to develop a list of requirements they recommended for inclusion in the policy.

Those recommendations include:

Only portraits of judges of the NC General Court of Justice shall be hung in the courtrooms. These would include portraits of Supreme Court Justices, Court of Appeals Judges, Superior Court Judges, and District Court Judges;

No portraits of attorneys, sheriffs or other elected officials will be hung in the courtrooms;

The judge must have served on the bench for a minimum of 10 years;

The judge must have been a resident of Hertford County for a minimum of 10 years;

The maximum size of the portrait is 38” x 45”;

The minimum size of the portrait is 20” x 24”;

The choice of the portrait will be based on recommendations to the county commissioners from the Sixth District Bar Association;

The judge may be living or deceased;

All costs shall be paid by the judge or the judge’s family;

Any portrait is subject to removal from the courtroom by the county commissioners for any reason;

The portrait shall be presented to Hertford County, and hung by county staff in any location on the courtroom wall as determined by the county commissioners;

Portraits of District Court Judges shall be hung in Courtroom A. Portraits of all other judges shall be hung in Courtroom B;

Judges so honored must be retired from the bench and retired from the practice of law.

Judge Grant explained that the Sixth District Bar is comprised of attorneys from Halifax, Hertford, Bertie and Northampton counties as well as the judges serving those four counties.

“We feel that group is better to make a recommendation to the county because they are in a better position to determine which judge is worthy to have his or her portrait hung in the courtroom,” Judge Grant noted. “Also, I feel it takes some of the politics out of the decision making process.”

He later added that the 6th District Bar may make a recommendation; however, that potential honoree still has to meet all the criteria set forth in the policy as adopted by the commissioners.

“Hopefully you can provide a copy of the policy, once approved, to the Bar Association so they can be sure that a particular judge meets the requirements even before they make a recommendation,” Grant said.

What Judge Grant asked the commissioners to do was initially agree that portraits can be hung and then direct Revelle to draft a formal policy to present to the board for possible adoption.

“The county needs to look at some overall policies regarding the hanging of portraits in other county owned facilities, not just in the courtroom,” Revelle stated. “Ms. (Loria) Williams (Hertford County Manager) and her staff are doing some research on that. This courtroom part (of the process) may not happen immediately because the directive has been given as part of a comprehensive policy governing a lot of rooms here in the courthouse and the (county) administration building.

“However, we are appreciative of what you, Judge Grant, have presented as a starting point for a policy regarding the hanging of portraits in our two courtrooms,” Revelle added. “This is a template we can start with.”

Answering a question from Commissioner Johnnie Ray Farmer regarding the portraits that once hung in the main courtroom of the old courthouse, Judge Grant said none of those would meet the requirements of the policy he presented.

“There was one there, one of Judge Cooper I believe, that hung behind the judge’s bench, but I don’t think he was a resident of Hertford County,” Grant remarked. “The other two portraits in the old courtroom were of attorneys.”

“I like the idea that those we consider need to be a resident of Hertford County for at least 10 years,” said Commissioner Curtis Freeman.

The commissioners opted to direct the County Manager to move forward with having a policy drafted regarding Judge Grant’s proposal.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

email author More by Cal