Sketchy Reunion for Courtney Love, Heidi Fleiss and Other Courtroom Celebs


April 25, 2006 — -- If their celebrated trials had gone differently, Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss and rocker Courtney Love might've met up in jail instead of a Los Angeles art gallery, where some of the most famous and infamous courtroom stars will look back at 25 years of celebrity justice.

The launch party on Thursday for courtroom artist Mona Shafer Edwards' "Captured! Inside the World of Celebrity Trials" promises to be a gathering like no other, with famed criminal defense lawyers Tom Mesereau and Mark Geragos meeting O.J. Simpson trial judge Lance Ito, celebrities who've had brushes with the law, and prosecutors who tried to make them pay for their alleged crimes.

Over wine and cheese, these courtroom stars will rehash moments from the high profile trials Edwards has captured in marker and pen: Simpson staring passively from the defense table while images of his murdered wife are shown in open court; the Cosby family confronting their son's murderer; and many others.

To be sure, the brutality of these trials is hardly cause for celebration. Rather, Edwards' quarter-century of sketches are a testament to one of the oldest traditions for getting at the essence of what transpires inside a courtroom.

And while Edwards has had a front seat at the trials of Rodney King, Richard Ramirez and the Menendez brothers, her work in "Captured!" -- accompanied by written recollections -- deftly captures those odd moments, filled with dark humor, when a legal proceeding becomes a public obsession.

"The courtroom artist is something of a throwback to a more innocent day when there was more respect for the image in the courtroom," Edwards says.

"But even when there's a camera in the courtroom, I think we artists are capturing the real emotion."

No doubt celebrity justice has become a cottage industry -- a disturbing reflection of America's obsession with its stars -- and Edwards' book is as star-studded as any glitzy magazine, with the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Catharine Zeta-Jones, Steven Spielberg, Winona Ryder, Dolly Parton, Snoop Dogg, Tommy Lee, Dustin Hoffman, Farrah Fawcett and Clint Eastwood in court for trials involving stalking, domestic abuse, palimony, copyright infringement, shoplifting, wrongful death and, of course, divorce.

"It's amazingly hard trying to sketch a celebrity, because you have an image of them from what you've seen, but you have to capture the person who is in the courtroom," she says.

A Farrah Fawcett in court in 1998 (when her boyfriend James Orr was accused of domestic abuse) is obviously not the one you'll see on TV.

Fawcett had claimed she was beaten. But Orr's lawyers contended that he'd acted in self-defense, and that she had smashed windows of the defendant's home with a fireplace poker and attacked his car with a baseball bat.

"Watching the case was like watching performance art," Edwards says.

"Farrah demonstrated how she walked with the bat pointed down at her side; Orr showed how she swung it as she walked," she recalls in the book. "A lawyer remarked that the whole thing looked like a bad dance."

And Edwards was left to depict this odd demonstration, before Orr was convicted and sentenced to probation.

The intensity of Simpson's testimony at his wrongful death trial was another moment that was nearly too overwhelming to draw, she says. "When O.J. Simpson demonstrates 'wrassling' with Nicole with clenched fists ... these are times when the pen's practically quivering in my hand," she says.

On "The Sopranos" last season, Junior Soprano (Dominic Chianese) shoots menacing glances at the courtroom artist, as if to say he's not so happy that he's being depicted at his racketeering trial as a doddering old fool.

Edwards says she felt similarly terrorized while covering the 1989 murder trial of Richard Ramirez, the so-called night stalker who would be convicted on charges related to a grisly crime spree that left 14 people dead.

"It was the most unsettling experience of my life. I sat directly behind the defense and occasionally Ramirez turned to look at me and watch me draw. He smiled with his crooked teeth," she recalls in the book.

"If he saw I was sketching, he watched me, so I began covering my face. I didn't want to attract attention, and I certainly didn't want him burning my face into his memory."

While most former defendants want no reminder of their criminal trials, Fleiss and Love have become fans of Edwards' work.

Edwards is employed as a freelancer for various media companies, and regularly works for ABC News, but she retains ownership of her courtroom sketches and sells them selectively.

"I wouldn't do it in a way that would be disrespectful," she says.

Likewise, while Simpson's and Robert Blake's lawyers were invited to her book party, she wouldn't invite Simpson or Blake, both of whom were acquitted of murder but found responsible for the death of their spouses in civil trials.

In the end, lawyers and judges are some of Edwards' biggest fans. After defending the likes of Scott Peterson, Michael Jackson and Winona Ryder, Geragos has a collection of courtroom art in his office on what he calls his "ego wall."

In those lighter moments, Edwards deftly recalls how some lawyers try to twist the truth by asking her to draw them to look thinner, younger and frequently, "with more hair."

"No can do," she says.

But her book does offer some amazing recollections. Here are a few:

1. Peekaboo With Michael Jackson: Edwards' first courtroom meeting with Jackson -- when he and his brothers were sued over the 1994 "Jackson Family Honors" TV special -- set the tone for all future meetings with the King of Pop:

"If his appearance wasn't jarring enough, his antics crossed the line into surreal. On the witness stand he giggled at us, waved, and at one point, he covered his face in such a way that I swear he was playing peekaboo."

But from this animated adventure, Jackson reverted into "the stillest person" the artist ever observed, when he sat at the defense table last year for his child molestation trial.

"He could be an extraterrestrial. ... His skin, so pale, appears to be peeling in places and he never wiped his face or wiped his eyes; he only dabbed them like a genteel lady conscious of smearing her eye makeup.

"His hair does not look real to me, and his habit of pushing it back from his face, carefully, with two hands -- never smoothing it -- contributed to that impression. That, and it would be different lengths on different days of the week."

2. Fashion Advice for Winona Ryder: Edwards believes she played a small role as an unofficial fashion adviser in 2002, when Winona Ryder faced shoplifting charges for leaving Saks Fifth Avenue with $5,000 in unpaid designer clothing.

"As a former fashion illustrator, the case was a dream for me, as it involved high fashion. I eagerly covered Ryder's couture looks, a new one every day. On her first day in court, the pixielike woman was dressed in a hot pink sweater and floral skirt -- more suited for a picnic than a grand theft trial.

"I mentioned this to one of her attorneys, and the next day, she wore a low-key black suit with a white collar."

If Ryder was taking Edwards' tip, the court reporter proved to have a magic touch. By the time the trial ended, she was featured in fashion magazines all over the world and on the cover of W Magazine wearing her famous "Free Winona" T-shirt.

3. Art Lessons for Robert Blake: Edwards says she typically has minimal contact with defendants. But at the end of Robert Blake's civil trial, the actor -- who spoke like "a Depression-era street kid" -- became intrigued by her.

"Hey, artist lady," she recalls him saying, "I been watching you. Your work's good. The other artists make me look like Gabby Hayes on a bad day."

Blake then showed the sketches he'd been drawing on legal pads throughout his criminal and civil trial, mostly wilderness scenes. "Fantasies like a Boy Scout who never went camping," Edwards recalls.

As it turns out, Blake honed his skills while incarcerated. "Gay prisoners showed him how to paint with Skittles," she says.

Apparently, when the colored candies are moistened, the food dye bleeds, and can be used like watercolor paint.

"My lawyer did nothin' for me," Blake told Edwards. "But I learned a few tricks."

4. Dolly's a Patron of Courtroom Art: In 1985, when Dolly Parton faced charges that she stole her hit "9 to 5," she came to court in signature Southern style with stiletto heels, "cute as a button and sweet as sugar."

While Dolly testified with guitar in hand to prove her song was an original, the highlight for Edwards came in the ladies room, before the verdict was announced:

"I like your drawings," Edwards recalls Dolly saying. "May I have one? I'll buy it."

Dolly then whipped out her checkbook and proceeded to use the lavatory, Edwards says. "It's the first and last business transaction I've ever conducted in the ladies' room."

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at "The Wolf Files" is published Tuesdays.

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