Roanoke County Courthouse unveils two portraits during dedication ceremony


John S. Koehler Contributing writer

Back row: Judge Dorsey, Judge Swanson and Judge Broadhurst
Front row: Judge Carson and Judge Clemons

Courtroom three in the Roanoke County Courthouse was filled to near capacity on the afternoon of Thursday, March 2.

The occasion was not a sensational trial, but a ceremony to unveil the official portraits of retired Circuit Court Judges Robert P. Doherty, Jr. and Jonathan M. Apgar.  A special session of the Twenty-third Circuit Court of Virginia brought all five of the currently sitting Roanoke Valley circuit court judges to Roanoke County.  Judge James Swanson, the resident circuit judge in Roanoke County, presided along with Judges William Broadhurst, Charles Dorsey, David Carson, and Chris Clemons.

Also attending the ceremony were many members of Judge Doherty’s and Judge Apgar’s families, Virginia House of Delegates member Greg Habeeb, general district court judge Thomas Roe, Roanoke County Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Leach and his Roanoke City counterpart Don Caldwell, and many members of the local bar and courthouse personnel.  Special guests included Senior Justice Lawrence L. Koontz, Jr. of the Supreme Court of Virginia and Salem attorney Charlie Phillips, the dean of the Salem/Roanoke County Bar.

Judge Swanson opened the proceedings by welcoming the guests and thanking those who had made possible the funding of the portraits. Judge Swanson singled out for praise Justice Koontz, alluding to the Justice’s power of persuasion in helping raise donations for the effort.  The portraits were simultaneously unveiled by two court bailiffs.

Judge Swanson commented that the portraits had been kept in his office for several months and teased that all the visitors who had seen the portraits agreed that “Judges Doherty and Apgar never looked better.”

Judge Apgar made brief remarks thanking those who had assisted him in his career, including Phillips and Caldwell for whom he had worked as a young attorney. Judge Doherty, observing that some of the younger attorneys present might be the subject of future portraits, remarked that recognizing retired judges in this way was also a reminder of the history and continuity of the law.

Since 1985, courtroom four at the Roanoke County Courthouse has housed the collection of portraits of the judges who have presided over the circuit court in Roanoke County, beginning with the Judge John James Allen in 1838, the year the county was created.  In 1985, portraits of the fifteen former and five then active judges were hung for display in Courtroom four.  Between 1987 and 1994, three new portraits were hung as Judges Clifford R. Weckstien, Diane McQ. Strickland, and Richard C. Pattisall joined the circuit court bench.  However, when Judge Doherty joined the court in 1995, there was no space left for additional portraits in courtroom four, and it was decided that new portraits would be added to the collection only upon the retirement of a judge.

Judges Doherty and Apgar both retired in 2013, but no funds were available at that time to have their portraits made.  At the urging of Justice Koontz in early 2016, the Salem/Roanoke County Bar Association undertook a subscription campaign to raise the more than $3,000.00 which would be required to have the portraits completed and framed.  Contributions to this effort were received from Gentry Locke Attorneys, OPNLAW and the Anderson and Friedman Law firm as well as several local attorneys.

“We were happy to undertake this campaign,” said SRCBA Corresponding Secretary John Koehler.  Echoing Judge Doherty’s comments, Koehler said, “The continuity of the law is represented not just in the decision rendered by the courts, but also by the judges who make those decisions.  We hope that by honoring their service, we are also honoring the tradition of the certainty in the rule of law.”  The Roanoke Bar Association also promoted the campaign to its members.  While the two local bar associations are sometimes viewed as friendly rivals, “we are partners when it comes to showing respect for our judges and courts and bettering our community,” said Koehler.

Robert Dementi of Salem photographed Judges Doherty and Apgar and arranged to have the portraits transferred to canvas by Miller’s Professional Imaging of Pittsburg, Kansas.  The portraits were then sent to Richmond artist Michelle Cheatham for the addition of highlights and shading.  The portraits of Judges Doherty and Apgar are the first two to be installed in courtroom three.  “We expect it will be a few years before another portrait will need to be added to the collection,” said Koehler, “but the SRCBA is already planning to build up the special fund to meet that need once it arises.

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