Last month, a portrait of Mayor William Hallenbeck took its place on the wall of the Council Chamber in City Hall, without fuss or fanfare . . . at least none Gossips is aware of, but then Gossips isn't on the mayor's media list.
A portrait of Columbia County district attorney Paul Czajka is having a somewhat different experience. This past Wednesday, an email was sent to members of the Columbia County Bar Association, inviting them to the courthouse on July 17 at 3 p.m. for the unveiling of a portrait of Czajka in the main courtroom. The email came from Lisa Mills, an attorney from Valatie, who is the secretary of the Columbia County Bar Association. According to information received by Gossips, the news of the event came as a surprise to many of the invitees, including Mark Greenberg, who is the president of the bar association. Half a dozen people reportedly contacted the office of the Third Judicial District expressing concern about the timing of the event (Czajka is running for reelection) and especially about the placement of the portrait. What effect might there be on jurors if a portrait of the prosecutor, dressed in judicial robes, were hanging on the wall of the courtroom?
On Friday, in a letter to Mills, district executive Beth Diebel, speaking on behalf of Third District administrative judge Thomas A. Breslin, responded to the concerns. She expressed Breslin's trust that, "with the Bar Association's sponsorship," the event will be "conducted with the appropriate decorum as is fitting for the courthouse, and, if held prior to the November 2015 election, the event would be non-political in nature."
On the subject of the portrait's placement, Diebel continued: ". . . the Third Judicial District takes the position that the appropriate place for the portrait to be hung in is a hallway or the lobby of the Courthouse and not a courtroom. This position helps to ensure that a party appearing in a matter in which either DA Czajka or his staff appear are not prejudiced by the presence of a portrait of the very person and/or Office prosecuting the case in the same courtroom."
At midday on Friday, Mills sent another email to the members of the Columbia County Bar Association advising that "the unveiling of the portrait of the Honorable Paul Czajka is being rescheduled." A new date has not been announced.
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