John Gotti Meets Sammy the Bull in Court by Ruth Pollack courtroom sketch artist

John Gotti grimaces as Sammy “the Bull” Gravano testifies against him, the first Mafia underboss to do so. Work by Ruth Pollack.

We are accustomed to vigorous debates over the value of allowing cameras in courtrooms. (There’s even a seminar at the upcoming State Bar Convention on the topic.) But amidst the conversation, many miss a longtime courtroom element that becomes more and more rare as cameras enter.

Have you already guessed? I’m talking about the courtroom sketch artist.

Many of us (OK, us older folks) are accustomed to viewing courtroom proceedings through the eyes of such artists. But as we are increasingly able to view “the real thing” through camera lenses, fewer news outlets will shell out the expense of a pen-and-ink (or other) artist.

It’s hard to overstate the shame of that. Photography is a terrific medium, but the best courtroom artists use all their skills (and some artistic license) to convey a narrative rather than just a snap of a moment in time.

The remarkable New York Times series called Op-Docs tells the tale of one longtime sketch artist—and the diminishment of media interest in his craft.

If you’d like to see some examples of what we lose when we lost sketch artists, go here.

Finally, go here to read about (and maybe buy) a new book about some of the greatest courtroom artists. It’s called, naturally, The Illustrated Courtroom.

Illustrated Courtroom book cover sketch artist

And here’s a great post describing the work of many courtroom artists.

Do you have favorite sketch artists? Will you miss them? Let me know about the most visual trials you never attended in person.

Today, more of a question than a talky talky post: Do any of you use an iPad for work?

I ask for a few reasons.

First of all, we are working on the October issue of Arizona Attorney, in which we’ll have some IT for lawyers content. And unlike last year, when we had an iPad story, we don’t have one this year. A reason for that was that no one ever said to me, “Right on, finally some content for the iPad lawyer!”

I would have been happy even without the “Right on.” But it was pretty quiet out there.

Another reason is that I came across this great article, which explains some nifty ways to present using your iPad. That made me think, we should have done something like that in the upcoming issue. But then I remembered my first point above, and I wasn’t so sure.

At home, we have a few iPads, and they are terrific. But it hadn’t really crossed my mind to use them for work stuff, let alone in presentations.

So how about it? Do you use one for work?

Tougher questions now: Have you used them for courtroom presentations?

Would you?

It looks like there are still some seats open for the esteemed Arizona College of Trial Advocacy, hosted by the State Bar of Arizona.

The hands-on event runs from July 31 through August 4, at the Black Canyon Conference Center, 9440 N. 25th Ave., Phoenix (see map below).

The Trial College, limited to 48 students, is the flagship program of the Bar’s Section on Trial Practice and Procedure. Here is how Section leaders describe it:

“The College is an intensive, five-day workshop that provides practical hands-on training for trial lawyers. It culminates in a half-day mock trial with live jurors and judges in a Maricopa County Superior Court courtroom. The program is designed to significantly develop and refine the skills necessary for excellence in trial practice.

“Why should this interest you? The College provides a do-it-yourself teaching tool that gives aspiring trial attorneys an opportunity to mentor with top Arizona litigators and judges. Attorneys with personal injury practices can earn 10 points toward an Arizona Board of Legal Specialization in Injury and Wrongful Death Litigation.”

The Trial College Executive Director is Rebecca Albrecht. Co-chairs this year are John Ager, John DiCaro and Bruce G. Macdonald.

For more information or to register, go here.

Chalk this up in the unexpected results category.

Over the past few years, animals—usually dogs—have been used more and more in courtrooms around the country, even in Arizona. It’s been discovered that they have a soothing effect on parties and other trial participants. Thus, in their own unique way, dogs may contribute to the administration of justice.

Rosie, who comforts traumatized children and aided a teenager on the stand in a rape trial, outside the Dutchess County Courthouse in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., with Dale Picard. (Kelly Shimoda for The New York Times)

Former State Bar of Arizona President Ray Hanna wrote on the topic last year. He described pioneer steps taken by courts in Florida and Washington State to integrate dogs into the courtroom. (It also allowed him the opportunity to feature a photo of his own beautiful dog.)

Ray Hanna and companion in a 2010 President's Message

This week, though, I came across a blog post written by an Arizona lawyer, Howard Snader. In it, he describes the question of fairness that such a dog may present in a courtroom.

As the author writes:

“Some criminal law attorneys feel the use of therapy dogs in the courtroom is a violation of the defendant’s rights to a fair trial and that the dog, with its cuteness and subtle communication about the victim and truth of testimony, will prejudice the jury. Criminal defense lawyers have complained about the negative effects created against the criminal defendant by the presence of a therapy dog in a criminal trial.

“This factor has unknown impact against the work of a criminal lawyer to defend their client and obtain a fair trial. Attorneys are citing the conviction results of a Poughkeepsie, N.Y., rape trial as proof that the effect of the presence of [therapy dog] Rosie influenced the trial outcome.”

The New York trial he refers to was covered by The New York Times here.

The reporter writes:

“Prosecutors [in Dutchess County, N.Y.] noted that [Rosie] is in the vanguard of a growing trial trend: in Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana and some other states in the last few years, courts have allowed such trained dogs to offer children and other vulnerable witnesses nuzzling solace in front of juries.

“The new role for dogs as testimony enablers can, however, raise thorny legal questions. Defense lawyers argue that the dogs may unfairly sway jurors with their cuteness and the natural empathy they attract, whether a witness is telling the truth or not, and some prosecutors insist that the courtroom dogs can be a crucial comfort to those enduring the ordeal of testifying, especially children.”

Read the blog post and the NYT article and let me know what you think. Do you agree with the concerns raised? Would a juror be swayed by the presence of a therapy dog? Do these animals have a place in the courtroom? If they do, should their use be modified?

And for more information on Howard Snader and his practice, click here.