When Artists Are Too Good

Here’s something I didn’t understand. Even though multiple cameras photographed and broadcast the ’95 Simpson courtroom proceedings, news outlets still hired sketch artists, who also attended proceedings and illustrated trial participants like this one of Simpson, created by one of the best, Bill Robles, that ran recently on Hollywood LAist‘s website.

It didn’t matter to me, except when artists were too good. Accurate likenesses of trial participants was not a problem, except for those of jurors. In all states except Florida that allow courtroom camera coverage, jurors’ faces may not be photographed or broadcast live or video.

Many of the illustrations of Simpson jurors were so accurate their friends, relatives and coworkers recognized them when they appeared in print or on air.

Trial judge Lance Ito’s request that the artists change jurors’ features and hairstyles in their illustrations and to have their drawings cleared by me before they gave them to news outlets wasn’t 100-percent effective.

After Ito saw a TV news report with yet another illustration of easily identifiable jurors, he summoned the artist, Bill Robles, to appear in court to explain how the media got a picture that was too accurate.

“… I was concerned because as you know the court has ordered the use of an anonymous jury in this case and that California Rules of Court 980 prohibits the depiction of jurors. … [Your] depictions were too close to what we have in the jury box.”

“I think there might have been a problem,” Robles’ lawyer Beth Fenley replied. “… although he’s trying to have all of his drawings cleared by your representative, he has not been able to connect with her on all occasions, and perhaps that is how one of the drawings was broadcast without someone else in the court seeing it.”

Ito’s remedy, I as recall in Anatomy of a Trial, was to issue a written order for all artists to submit their drawings to him or to me for review before releasing them for publication or broadcast. He assured Robles and Finley that I was in the courthouse daily and “this court rarely leaves the courthouse before 6:00 in the evening every day, so we will be available to, in an expeditious manner, review any drawings that you want to use immediately that day.”

Then he went a step further. He had two stamps made– one for him and one for me — that looked like this:

I carried my stamp with me and made sure to connect with artists every time they left the courtroom. Some of their renderings continued to be too accurate, so I recommended that they draw ovals to represent jurors’ heads. Although they weren’t happy — I’m sure professional pride was a factor — that seemed to resolve the issue.

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