Last week, someone stole this portrait of Jesus that adorned the halls of Bridgeport High School for nearly 40 years.

CLARKSBURG - The Harrison County Board of Education needs to find a defense lawyer.

And it needs to find Jesus.

Warner Sallman's portrait, "Head of Christ," the subject of a federal lawsuit against the Harrison Board, was stolen from Bridgeport High School early Aug. 17 by a man described as 5-foot-7, white and between 220-240 pounds.

Reportedly, the man left behind fingerprints, though he shielded his face from surveillance cameras.

Despite the thievery, the board will continue to defend itself and recently accepted an offer from the Alliance Defense Fund to provide legal representation.

Board Attorney Richard Yurko, of Steptoe and Johnson in Clarksburg, says he no longer knows what his role will be.

"I am no longer lead counsel," Yurko said. "I know that the Alliance Defense Fund is representing them at no cost to the board and has to arrange for local counsel. That search is still in process."

The ADF is located in Scottsdale, Ariz., and will pay the board's attorneys fees. Soon, it will have to make a decision on which local lawyer will represent the Board.

Yurko had been representing the board and advised it that its chances for victory were slim.

Through plaintiffs Harold Sklar and Jacklyn McKenzie, the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the Americans Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia sued the Harrison Board in June, demanding it remove the portrait of Jesus that has hung in the hallways of Bridgeport High for almost 40 years.

Sklar is a Jewish lawyer who had been complaining about the portrait for years. His daughter is entering her freshman year at Bridgeport.

The case, which is scheduled for trial on Feb. 28, is in federal court in Clarksburg for the Northern District of West Virginia. Judge Irene Keeley is presiding.

Theft of the portrait may only strengthen the board's desire, which has remained unwavering so far. Twice, the Board has voted to keep the portrait hanging.

Also, the Christian Freedom Fund has raised more than $150,000 for the case. Richard Katskee, an attorney with the AUSCS says that money will be paid to the plaintiffs lawyers if and when the plaintiffs are victorious.

Of that $150,000, Bridgeport students raised $6,700.

U.S. District Court case number 1106-CV-103

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