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December 26, 2012

Courtroom artist: Drawing the drama

Indiana judge saves vintage courtroom sketches

LAFAYETTE — In a time where your CD player, video camera and computer can all be housed in the same handheld device and your cellphone can understand — and respond to — verbal commands, there are still some places where handheld technology is of little use.

Most of Indiana’s county courtrooms, for instance.

Though attorneys can have access to laptops, projectors and monitors, and some courtrooms video-record daily proceedings, cameras of any kind remain prohibited. That includes cellphones.

For Tippecanoe Circuit Court Judge Don Daniel, it makes the hundreds of vintage courtroom sketches — started in 1968 by Jane Moore, a former court reporter in Tippecanoe Superior Court 1, according to a Jan. 31, 1974, Journal & Courier article — that he holds onto all the more valuable.

Moore’s drawings are mostly headshots of attorneys and defendants, with a sprinkle of sketches of jurors in the jury box, done in the late 1960s and early ‘70s on pieces of scratch paper, roughly the size of a small notepad.

Most court reporters in Indiana courtrooms do not record proceedings by hand using stenography equipment. Rather, they record the proceedings on tape or digitally, then later transcribe testimony or proceedings when necessary. Moore had time to make sketches because she was not constantly taking shorthand.

Since Moore’s death in 2002, the drawings have been stored in two photo albums Daniel keeps in his chambers.

But for about three months in 2005, they were posted at the now-closed Wells Yeager Best pharmacy at 120 N. Third St., along the courthouse square. Pharmacy owner Steve Klink said Daniel showed the drawings to him, and he immediately thought, “other people have to see these.

“People came just to see them. Relatives of people in the drawings came to see them,” Klink told the Journal & Courier. “Lawyers who were pictured got a big kick out of it. It was interesting for everyone to see the defendants and talk about the old cases.”

The defendants, according to Daniel, include a man who was caught attempting to leave the United States and was stopped near a border with a dead body in his vehicle. Some defendants were drawn multiple times, such as members of a notorious Wabash Avenue family repeatedly tried for crimes that included murder, arson, burglary, theft and weapons offenses.

Most impressive, Daniel said, was Moore’s ability to accurately capture the likeness and emotions of the attorneys and defendants in her drawings — especially given her lack of formal training.

According to the 1974 J&C article, Moore told a reporter that her only training came from an art teacher at Jefferson High School, where she graduated in 1942.

“Sometimes I have to try several times. On others, the sketch comes easy,” Moore said. “ . The sketching goes about the way as it does when I play the piano or electric organ. If I’m in the right mood, I do fine. If I’m not, it’s bad.”

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