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3 Famous Courtroom Sketches That Sparked Public Controversy

This week, Taylor Swift engaged in a countersuit against ex-radio DJ David Mueller for sexual assault. Swift won this contentious case and was awarded the symbolic $1 in damages she had requested. According to the pop star, she refused to settle with Mueller because she wanted to provide an example for strength and hope for women who have experienced sexual assault. In this vein, she has also vowed to make donations to multiple organizations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves. Swift’s widespread fame and symbolic victory have elicited a divisive public response, but the court proceedings weren’t the only aspects of the lawsuit to ignite controversy. The released courtroom sketches of Taylor Swift were met with much criticism and mockery. Like court reporters, court artists play an important role in recording legal proceedings when camera use is restricted. In many cases, these sketches offer the only available visual insight into the courtroom. However, a court artist’s work is not always met with admiration by the public. Taylor Swift’s recent countersuit is not the first time that courtroom sketches, particularly those of celebrities, have sparked public debate. Below we examine 3 famous and controversial sketches, including this most recent instance.

  1. Taylor Swift

Many fans openly mocked the recent courtroom sketches of Taylor Swift. They claim that the sketches look more like Martha Stewart than the young pop star. Some have even joked that the artist must be a fan of Swift’s rival, Katy Perry, to have depicted her so unflatteringly. The artist in question, Jeff Kandyba, spoke out to defend his work. He claimed that Swift’s beauty and well-proportioned features made her a difficult subject to draw. He noted that Swift’s immense fame and well-known face made the work incredibly daunting. Kandyba also pointed out the difficulties of courtroom sketching: his subject was in motion, not posing at length for him.

See the sketches here.

  1. Martin Shkreli

Martin Shkreli is the co-founder of the hedge funds Elea Capital, MSMB Capital Management, MSMB Healthcare; the co-founder and former CEO of the biotechnology firm Retrophin; the founder and former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals and the CEO of startup software company Gödel Systems. In 2015, Shkreli was dubbed “the most hated man in America” and “pharma bro” when Turing Pharmaceuticals obtained the manufacturing license for the antiparasitic drug Daraprim and raised its price by a factor of 56. That same year, he was arrested by the FBI and received federal charges of securities fraud. He was ultimately convicted of two counts of securities fraud and one count of conspiring to commit securities fraud.

The courtroom sketches of Martin Shkreli were subject to quite a bit of internet humor. He was depicted grinning, arguably rather deviously, throughout the trial. Many compared the sketches of Shkreli to Gollum, a twisted creature from The Lord of the Rings series. Twitter users applauded the artist for depicting the “pharma bro” in such an unflattering light.

Access the images here.

  1. Tom Brady

Tom Brady’s involvement in the highly publicized “Deflategate” football tampering scandal sparked extensive and controversial public debate. In 2015, the NFL raised allegations against the New England Patriots for deliberately under-inflating footballs used in their AFC victory against the Indianapolis Colts. Quarterback Tom Brady was originally suspended for four games as a result of his alleged involvement in the scandal. Brady contested the matter, and the legal proceedings eventually moved to federal court. Judge Richard M. Berman vacated the suspension of Brady, which allowed him to resume playing for the 2015 season. However, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then reinstated his four-game suspension for the 2016 season. After losing a request for a rehearing, Brady accepted the suspension. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl, and Brady was named MVP of the game. As a result of this scandal, the NFL changed their process for monitoring football pressure.

In these convoluted and controversial proceedings, the courtroom sketches of Tom Brady gained serious notoriety. The reputedly handsome quarterback was depicted rather gruesomely by artist Jane Rosenberg. Rosenberg was forced to issue an apology after her sketches went viral. She was able to improve her work on a second attempt but claimed the situation was a nightmare for her, as Brady’s features were difficult to capture. According to Rosenberg, immense public scrutiny — added to the pressures of limited time and inconvenient distance — led to her sub-par depictions.

See Rosenberg’s attempts here.

While it’s easy to laugh at these courtroom sketches, it’s also important to acknowledge the difficulties facing a court artist. Other artists work with still models posing for extended periods of time. Court artists have to capture subjects quickly, usually while they are in motion, at a distance and at an inconvenient angle. These stresses are exacerbated when the artist is trying to capture a famous face, familiar to millions of people. So while these criticisms are funny, they may also be a little unfair.

Court artists play an important role in recording legal proceedings. While, cameras are allowed in many U.S. courts, their use is often restricted and they are banned from federal courts entirely. (For more information on cameras in the courtroom, check out our blog post on the subject.) When cameras are not permitted, courtroom sketches can capture the facial expressions and emotions of the participants. Despite occasional criticism and mockery, court artists play an important part in bringing the visual story of important legal proceedings to the public.

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