The Courtroom Artist Who Faced Down Ghislaine Maxwell

The Courtroom Artist Who Faced Down Ghislaine Maxwell

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So who's my guest this week? It's the courtroom artist, Jane Rosenberg. Since 1946, broadcasts and photographs of criminal proceedings inside U.S. Federal Courts has been strictly banned. No matter how notorious the accused or headline grabbing the crime, media cameras are kept out.

Instead it is left to the artist to be the eyes of the public and capture the drama of the courtroom. For the past 40 years, Jane Rosenberg has come face to face with those involved in some of America's most high profile cases. She's sketched everyone from El Chapo to Harvey Weinstein, and her drawings have been seen all over the world. From the New York Courts filled with Mob bosses to those accused in the #MeToo era, she has seen it all. So what is it like drawing Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein and Bill Cosby? Here's what's coming up. The now-convicted sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell.

You were obviously making eye contact. When did you realize she was sketching you? She had, she was leaning on a piece of paper. She took out a piece of paper and she was going up and down looking at me, looking at me. So, you know, I knew she was sketching me, you could tell when somebody's sketching you. And is it right? I mean, I dunno if this is right, but Weinstein asked for more hair in one of your drawings? He did, he was walking. I was standing in an aisle seat, and he was walking out with his lawyers and he looked over at my sketch, and he said, "Can't you gimme more hair?" I just kept drawing and I did not give him more hair.

Jane, thank you so much for talking to me and to our viewers today. It's lovely to be with you. And I wonder how it does feel to be the subject instead of the one drawing and creating the work? I really hate it. And that's why I don't think cameras should be in the court. Well, no, that would slightly put you out of work. But you've been in this line of work for more than 40 years.

Yes. And I just wanted to ask, because the clip that has gone, or the image, rather, I should say that's gone viral recently is of the now-convicted sex trafficker, Ghislaine Maxwell, drawing you as you drew her. Yes.

That didn't make me nervous. It didn't make you nervous? No. Sketchers are fine. I think if she took out a big fat camera and put it in my face, I'd feel a little differently. But was that not quite an odd experience? 'Cause I imagine that doesn't happen that often. No, that- It did happen to me about 30 years ago when there was, there's a comedian named Eddie Murphy. I don't know if you know who he is.

Heard of him. Yep, definitely. He did a little sketch of me in a court case. He was the defendant, or he was actually suing or some kind of dispute with his agent, and he was bobbing up and down and sketching, making fun of me, you know, like pointing. He did a little sketch of me on a little Post-it and he gave it to me and I have it here in my apartment somewhere. I found it within five years. It's still here somewhere.

Okay. So once in 30 years, it's definitely not the norm. No, it's not the norm. So it was odd. You were obviously making eye contact. When did you realize she was sketching you? She had, she was leaning on a piece of paper. She took out a piece of paper and she was going up and down looking at me, looking at me.

So, you know, I knew she was sketching me. You can tell when somebody's sketching you. And it didn't put you off? It didn't really put me off, but I felt I better get this, I better sketch this 'cause now this is what's happening in the courtroom, and I have to draw what I see. Yeah, I was just gonna say, I imagine that was pretty meta, you know, you being drawn and her drawing you. And also do you think there's a kind of, is there a psychological element to that, do you think? There could be. A lot of people are throwing in their opinions about what it means and what it meant to her, that she was trying to like have power.

I don't really know. I don't read minds. I can't figure out what she was doing, but I had to draw her and I was really happy she was looking straight ahead as you may be right now, because a lot of times I'm seated right behind a defendant and I can't see anything but the back of their head. So if I can get a front view, it's great. A lot of times photographers outside of a courthouse will shout out somebody's name when they're trying to get their image, just so that they get them to turn front view. So it was an important thing for me, and I wanted to keep it going as long as possible. It was great.

Well, that's interesting as well. I mean, did you get to see what she drew? Did she leave it on the table? I did go running out. It was a break and I went out and ran after her lawyer. I said, "Can I see? I'd like to know what was she sketching?" And she said, "You know, Jane, I can't discuss that with you." So I really don't know. I never saw it.

You're of course drawing as well, and it has been a remarkable time with the pandemic where you have a lot of people's faces now obscured with the mask. How has that been? It's partly easier and partly harder. It depends on who the person, Ghislaine Maxwell had great eyebrows and eyes and good shape hair because that's all I've got to work with. It made it harder for me to sketch because I use pastels and I'm used to blowing some of the dust off.

I'd be going, but then it's in my mask, so it was hard for me to wear a mask and work, but drawing everybody else in a mask, it makes, it's not as interesting, I'm sure, to make a portrait of somebody with a mask on, but I had to draw what I saw. Well some have also felt, you know, it's hidden people's faces at the time where you do normally get, so even going into the court, some people have felt, it's been helpful to those who are on trial in some way. I think it's been hard for a defendant's team, the lawyers to pick a jury, because you can't see their faces, it's hard to read. You wanna pick a certain type, you know, when you're trying to select a jury. I think it really made it hard for the them to...

People look different when they take their mask off. I was working with a reporter with a mask on, and then I saw them outside with no mask. I had no idea that was the same person. No, I know. I've had that exact same experience myself, quite a lot of times.

And I just wanna see and check that I've actually met that person before. With this particular image, 'cause it really did captivate people. I know you are not actually on social media, but this really did go viral. I know you can keep the images as well that you draw, you submit a scan of them or you give a copy, and then you keep the original.

Have you been offered money? Oh yeah. Sure. Yes. Are, are you gonna sell it? No, I'm not selling it, yet. I have a collection of 40, almost 43 years of sketches, thousands of them. And there's certain precious ones that I think are more important to me in my collection to make it all worth whatever. And I don't know, I'm not ready to sell it.

Just about something you were saying though with Ghislaine, which is I think speaks to your work is that you've gotta draw what you see and it's obvious that you have had to take the emotion out of it. Take my emotion out of it. Yeah, exactly.

You have to- Because if somebody else shows emotion, I do have to put that in. If somebody's crying, Of course. I have to capture their emotion, but I have to try to not let my feelings go into the drawing, which sometimes I do have reactions on some cases. Sometimes I feel like, I cry sometimes, and you know, tears are really bad for pastels.

I just try to be neutral and journalistic. I witness some horrific cases and I see horrible crime scene photos. Like I just did a Derek Chauvin case. I watched that tape over and over because it was shown from several different angles.

And it was really hard for me to do that. I had to look. I had to look, I had to draw it. I couldn't look away. People have an instinct to look away from a horrific scene like that, but I had to really study the face. It was just horrible to watch somebody die over and over and over.

What impact has your work had on you in your life outside the court? I think, I do painting as well and my subject matter is not crime, and it's just cityscapes of just more pleasant things, I think. You know, I don't wanna see or watch any crime scene movies. I just need to escape it. I don't touch pastels when I leave court.

I only will use oils in my painting. No, 'cause I imagine some of what you've been exposed to, I dunno if it's made you, has it changed the way you feel towards people? Do you sometimes think about the worst things you've seen and heard and maybe struggle to trust people or think of the bad things people can do? I try. It's hard. People's faces don't, as I was saying to somebody about Bernie Madoff, he looked like such a kind old gentleman. It would be so easy to just fall prey to him and like give him all your money and trust him.

You can't really always tell by somebody's face what they're really like inside. That's maybe something I've learned from trials, watching people. You can't always tell. There's brilliant con artists out there who just can mask their true self and you just have to be careful.

Have you ever been frightened in court? I was once, I was sketching a group of the, I think they were the embassy bombers. It was a group of terrorists, and there were a lot of them and they sat them all inside the jury box, 'cause they had nowhere else to put them. And they let me sit in the well, which is where the tables for the lawyers would be. And I was sketching, and one of the defendants jumped out of the well, lept over. It was sort of like, I think I had just seen a Tarzan movie with my son and he leapt over with both arms, took his feet and started running across the courtroom. And the judge stood up and pressed the panic button and the marshals were standing in the back and started running up and tackled the guy against the wall right next to me.

It was terrifying. I got on the floor, I held my pastel box, I was really afraid, which is resting on a little tripod next to me. I did not want that to go on the floor, and I just squatted down on the floor next to that.

So that was a pretty odd moment. Well, I mean, if you are regularly in the room with big criminals, something at some point I'm sure is gonna go down. That was the time that it went down.

And I had never been allowed in to sit where I was sitting again. They always, then it was just a time where they just were extra cautious since that point about where they let anybody sit. What's it like sitting opposite household names? I'm thinking R. Kelly and to an extent Harvey Weinstein.

Okay. Household names. These are all sex predators. So it's, the Me Too era, of a lot of the cases I've been covering there's so many Me Too's. What's it like? I don't know, I think they're all perverted in different ways. Like Weinstein, you know, they all, there's just, I think when people have a lot of money, power and fame, it corrupts them and they just become deviants.

And is it right? I mean, I dunno if this is right, but Weinstein asked for more hair in one of your drawings? Oh yeah, he did. He was walking. I was sitting in an aisle seat, and he was walking out with his lawyers and he looked over at my sketch, and he said, "Can't you gimme more hair?" I just kept drawing, and I did not give him more hair. No, I imagine as a woman, and also someone who just heard the details you'd just heard, but he's also still gonna be someone who's used to power, that that is not something you would respond to pretty well. He's not gonna have power over me, so I did not give him more hair, although many, many years ago, John Gotti did ask me to like shave off his chin, a little double chin, and I did do that.

Oh, why were you scared of him? Scared of him? It was, I don't think I was directly afraid of him, but there were a lot of Mob trials back then in the eighties. A lot of 'em. I was surrounded by a lot of Mafia people back then.

Trial after trial after, that was like Me Too now, back then it was Mafia trials, Commission Trial, John Gotti, the Pizza Connection Trial. There was, I can't even remember, they went, there were constantly, there were five different families in New York and there were so many trials and they were switching- I couldn't even follow it anymore. They were switching power, like Gotti had during the Commission Trial, one of the defendants there had vanished 'cause Gotti had taken him out and then he rose to power. That was a whole different era. It's interesting that there will have been phases like that. The Mobs, now #MeToo.

Yes, that seems to be the way the news works. It's not, I hardly, I can't even think of a Mafia trial I had covered recently, maybe six years ago. Nobody seems to care anymore. Now it's #MeToo, #MeToo, #MeToo. There was an era of financial crimes.

There was, you know, Martha Stewart and Bernie Madoff. And there were a lot of financial crimes for a while. And terrorists was a big theme for a while. And have you ever, I mean, a lot of the people you've mentioned don't get out of jail. Some of them will, of course. Have you ever met them in real life? Once they get out of jail, they probably serve such a long sentence that I don't, no, I've never met them after their trials.

I'm usually onto the next trial. How long do you have to make the drawing? That all depends on if it's an arraignment, somebody during the Boston Marathon bombing arraignment, he was there for six minutes. People timed it. I usually have no idea, 'cause I lose track of time and everything. I'm just so, arraignments go very quickly.

And in six minutes I have to get as much information down as I can and then flush it out from my memory, finish it up. I can't obviously complete it in six minutes, but I have to have as much information as I can get. And sometimes I have a witness, the same witness if I'm on a trial.

They may be on the stand for days, the same person. So I have a lot more time. I might do a wide shot with a lot of people in it, take my time. I might do a wide shot, a tight shot. It varies.

So everything depends on what I'm covering that day and how much time I've got. And early on I believe you drew one of the first people to be executed by electric chair in Alabama when it reintroduced the death penalty, John Evans. What was that like and how did it impact you? It was pretty awful.

The equipment malfunctioned. Flames came out of the knee pad, they came out of the helmet, and I think they had to redo it a few times. I felt, I looked around the- you don't see who pulls the switch. And I look around the room and nobody's, you know, people are hands behind their back.

I felt very responsible, like I did it. My hands felt dirty. And then I remember driving home during a thunder and lightning storm. I had to go another hour away to get to where I was staying, and driving through puddles, torrential rainstorm, and I felt like this is a message from the higher power. And I felt like I don't wanna be part of murder. I think murder is wrong.

I don't think the government should be doing murder, and I don't wanna do it. I don't believe in the death penalty. So that was that in terms of those drawings? That was the only time I covered an electrocution, and yeah.

Wow. You know, there are other horrible things, as I just told you about Derek Chauvin trial, that was pretty hard to watch, and- And I suppose being in New York as well, there's a particular, as you've described, there's a particular level of crime at times, you know, with the Mafia, a lot of violence, there's been a lot that you've had to see. And then you also have the celebrities because a lot of the time, this is where this happens.

Well, New York City is running a- violence going on all the time now, more than ever. That's why I'm not plain air painting on the streets of the city anymore. I don't feel comfortable standing out there putting an easel up and getting lost in an easel. I don't know who's gonna come up behind me. There's a lot of emotionally disturbed people and there's a lot of violence, and it's just horrific. And the city is changing and it needs to get fixed.

It's pretty bad right now, New York City. So the trials I'm seeing, I feel safe. I'm usually there's a lot of court officers or marshals or CSOs standing around.

I feel like I'm safe to draw there. It's not like sitting on a subway where somebody could get angry if I'm sketching them. Nobody's gonna come attack me.

You went viral again. I mean, maybe you've been viral lots of times and you don't know because you're not on social media, but there was also another time, which I think is smart a lot of the time, because of your depiction of Tom Brady, the American footballer in court, over a cheating accusation, people saying that your picture didn't look like him. I mean, that's not the same, of course, as having art critics look at your art for art's sake, it's a kind of different lens on it. But does that upset you? Does that bother you? It did back then a lot, but I think I learned, I had a lot of emails and there's fans who, it depended what team you're rooting for. 'Cause some people loved the sketch and some people like, how could I make him look so ugly? You know, I don't tend to flatter people when I'm doing quick courtroom sketches. Well, I'd imagine that not a lot of them look their best either.

It's their day in court. That's right. They just come in, the fluorescent lights, and they're like, "Get this over with. Get me outta here." Have you ever been surprised by a famous person coming in who doesn't actually really look like you thought they would? I just at the moment remembered Uma Thurman coming to court, who's very beautiful. And she sat down in the witness box and nobody would ever think the sketch I made was her, because you know, she's not looking glamorous and I'm sure there've been a lot of these.

I just can't remember them. You've mentioned around your work and how important it is to capture what's going on. And for you, I can tell it's a very important part of the justice system and transparency. But what do you say to those who think it's time for cameras? Well, as I said in the beginning, I don't really like being on camera. I'm not comfortable with it. I think it gives a lot of power in an editing room to the media.

They can make- people don't- when they see something on camera, they believe it's the truth. It's a photo. They don't lie. But there is power in the way things are edited. Things can be shown, clips of certain expressions that may not show the truth.

When a sketch is shown, I don't think people have that, "Oh, this is the truth. This is where-" It just captures a feeling of what's going on. So I don't, I think you have to watch out with cameras in the court. They may be quieter now, they're not as obtrusive.

They don't make loud clicking noises anymore. All that may be true, but what is true? What is the truth? Well, I mean your, your country, where I am, this has been a big thing. What is truth, post-truth era, those sorts of things. I suppose it's one of those debates, isn't it? And I'm interested as well, as a journalist, because of transparency in courts and how we best do that.

Well, courtrooms are open to the public. People are allowed to come in and watch trials. They're not sealed off unless it's a sealed case. And if a cameras running 24-7 in the courtroom, maybe that will give more information. But TV news tends to edit clips of what they think is the story they wanna tell.

And if the judge is yawning they may show that and say, "Oh, he's not paying attention." And you know, anything could happen. And I think there probably are witnesses like me who don't feel comfortable in front of a camera.

Yeah. And also victims of course, as well. Victims, of course, I can't even sketch their likeness, 'cause I'm not permitted. Not permitted to sketch their face. So I have to, during Ghislaine Maxwell and Weinstein and plenty of cases, I've had to draw featureless faces. So I'd get the gesture, maybe the tears, hands, hair. But no, I can't really, I can't let their whole likeness show where somebody could pick them out and say, "Oh, I know."

And jurors, I can't show their face too. Especially anonymous jurors. I mean, in the case of Ghislaine Maxwell, bringing it back up, a lot of people make a big thing of what the person looks like when they're found guilty. People wanna read into that moment, don't they? Do you draw that exact moment? That response to the verdict? I'm watching what's going on, and I- if she broke down crying, yeah. I would draw that moment.

But she didn't really have any reaction at that moment that I could see. Is that quite common? Yes. It's common. People don't always react. Maybe they're in shock, I don't know.

Yeah. What a moment, what many moments you've been in, in people's lives recording the biggest moment in many ways, often for the very worst reasons. But sometimes they are exonerated as well, of course, and that will be a very important moment as well. Speaking of Mafia trials, the last one I did, he was exonerated, and the courtroom erupted with his fans, like cheering, "Yay!" And they ran out celebrating. So that's rare though, yeah. Jane, if you, could do it all again, do you think you'd go into this line of work, knowing what you know about it? Yes. I do love what I do.

I think I'm very lucky. I love drawing people. I'm very lucky I found a way to earn a living doing it and feel safe, and I love it and I would do it all over again, yes. Well, I've loved talking to you. Thank you so much for letting us in and letting me and us turn the camera onto you and focus on you for a bit, but we'll let you get back to focusing on others. Thank you so much.

Okay. And thank you so much for being with us. Until we meet again, take care and goodbye.

2022-07-03 17:14

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