Passion for painting: Defense attorney makes after-hours art

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — By day, George W. Leach is a criminal-defense attorney, representing juvenile and adult clients charged with everything from truancy to murder.

At night, he retreats to the solitude of a studio around the corner from his downtown law office, rolls out an easel and paints in oils until midnight.

Leach’s worlds intersect when he handles cases in Franklin County Domestic Relations and Juvenile Court, where his paintings hang in three courtrooms and fill the outer lobby.

“It’s probably the best gallery I could be in,” Leach said. “I get to experience people experiencing my art. … It’s the most enjoyable part of coming through these hallways.”

Those gazing at the paintings are unaware that the artist could be strolling by to defend someone in one of the courtrooms. Even many of his fellow lawyers haven’t made the connection.

“We didn’t tell anyone,” he said. “There’s no placard that says ‘These are by George Leach, a lawyer who practices here.’ They just showed up, and people enjoyed them.”

Leach, 56, is a Youngstown native who had short careers as a sporting-goods buyer and a Columbus City Schools teacher before becoming a lawyer in 2001, earning his law degree at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan.

He always loved art but might never have tried his hand at it if he hadn’t crashed on a bike path in Chicago while attending a buyers show in 1994. He was hospitalized for several days and required reconstructive surgery on his forehead and a cheekbone.

“I was laid up that summer, so that’s when I decided to start painting,” he recalled.

He took classes at the Columbus Cultural Arts Center, where an instructor quickly told him more lessons weren’t necessary.

“He said, ‘Just keep painting. You don’t need anyone telling you how.’ It just seemed to come naturally.”

Leach hasn’t stopped painting. Three years ago, he opened R.A.W. Gallery on E. Main Street, which doubles as his studio. Most nights, unless he’s preparing for or in the midst of a trial, he’s at the studio from 9 p.m. until midnight. He heads there after going home to Bexley to have dinner with his twin 8-year-old sons, help them with homework and put them to bed.

“It’s a calming space,” he said of the studio. “No clients are calling me here.”

He paints quickly, applying thick strokes with a brush or pallet knife. In many of the paintings depicting children, he said, “I want the child to look at you and for you to feel what the child is feeling. I want you to see that child through his or her eyes.”

The images of children are what inspired two Juvenile Court judges to ask if they could borrow his works for display in their courtrooms.

Each of the two paintings chosen by Judge Kim A. Browne shows a boy staring forward; one has scribbled the word “please” on a sign he is holding.

“Their eyes are very soulful,” she said. “They’re conversation-evoking. They speak to people.”

The Juvenile Court collection, all on loan from the artist, began about four years ago when Judge Dana S. Preisse saw Leach’s painting of a barn on Rt. 22 near Lancaster and asked if she could hang it outside her courtroom.

“I love Ohio barns,” said Preisse, who invited Leach to show her other examples of his work. Soon, she borrowed a painting of a Hocking County barn and one of an old, weathered house in Newark for her courtroom.

When she discovered that he also paints human figures, including children, she asked the other judges if they wouldn’t mind hanging some in the area outside the courtrooms.

Ten of Leach’s paintings now hang there.

One of his newest paintings hangs in the courtroom of Franklin County Municipal Judge Paul Herbert, whose weekly CATCH court is designed to change the lives of women trapped in the world of drugs and prostitution. Herbert asked Leach to create a painting that illustrates the women’s journey toward healing.

The painting of two open hands releasing a butterfly over a prison yard was unveiled last month and hangs beside Herbert’s bench.

“It took my breath away,” Herbert said of the unveiling. “The amount of insight, combined with the actual artwork, shows a level of understanding that most people don’t have about this problem.”

Leach said he doesn’t think his legal work is much of a departure from what happens in his studio.

“You have to be an artist to be a trial attorney,” he said. “It’s a show sometimes in trial. I’m conveying emotions through my paintings that I want people to feel. As a trial attorney, I’m projecting to you as a jury member what I want you to feel from my client’s perspective.

“I have a passion for art, and I know I have a passion for my law practice and the clients I represent.”


Information from: The Columbus Dispatch,