Legal fees at issue in Jesus of Bridgeport lawsuit

By John O'Brien | Nov 2, 2006

CLARKSBURG - With more than $150,000 raised to fight a legal battle over a religious painting that hung in Bridgeport High School, Harrison County school board members think it should be easy to pay the attorneys fees that were incurred, considering it was less than a third of what was raised.

But since the battle wasn't actually fought and the suit was settled out of court, board member Mike Queen reportedly is planning to return the donated money.

Confusion has spread among the board. Some members thought that money was to be paid to their own legal cause, when Queen, who did the majority of the fundraising, was stashing it in case the board was ordered to pay plaintiffs attorneys fees.

Their own fees turned out to be around $46,000. Most of the bills have been paid, but some members of the board want the money raised by Queen to be used for reimbursement.

The dispute was over a reproduction of Warner Sallman's "Head of Christ," which hung in Bridgeport for almost 40 years before it was stolen in August.

The lawsuit was filed by Harrison County residents Harold Sklar and Jacqueline McKenzie June 28 in federal court for the Northern District of West Virginia with the help of the state's American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Americans United attorney Richard Katskee said months ago that he understood the fees would be given to his side in the event the court ordered the Harrison Board of Education to pay plaintiffs fees. However, the suit was settled in October.

The portrait has not been recovered, and if it is will not be hung again.

Now the board must pay its own fees, and Queen reportedly says $9,000 of the money raised will go to the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, which was retained Aug. 18, two months into the lawsuit.

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