Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Lawyer Dennis O'Connor presents his case.


I had a second opportunity to sketch lawyer Dennis O’Connor in action at the Orange County Courthouse. Getting through security into the building was an adventure. Pockets had to be emptied and everything went through the scanner while I walked through the metal detector. My bag had to be searched a second time and my brushes were to blame. I had to explain what the brushes were for and then I was sent on my way. I had been assigned to sketch Dennis by his family. They wanted to surprise him with a courtroom sketch for his birthday. The first time I sketched him in a Sanford Courthouse and he had no idea what I was up to. Those sketches unfortunately showed Dennis rather small on the far side of the courtroom.

Dennis was in the elevator as I went up to the courtroom. This time he knew why I was sketching. He briefly explained the case to me. He was defending Dale Steele. Dale was a friend of an elderly woman named Loretta Viles. She had signed a document naming him as her caretaker. Sylvia’s family was suing Dale claiming that he took advantage of the old woman’s trust. He had purchased a boat, and car using funds from her account. Sylvia, Lorita’s daughter was on the stand being cross examined. All afternoon, documents were projected that showed expenses and legal documents. The bottom line however was that Loretta had signed over the power of attorney to Dale. Dales son took the stand and a photo was shown of him riding the NYC subways to visit Loretta who also had an apartment there. His testimony implied that the Steele family had been close to Loretta for years. Loretta, who wasn’t in the court room was painted as a generous woman rather than a victim. She had also financed the home that her daughter lived in. Dennis’s cross examination implied that the Steele family had been closer to Loretta than her own family.

Unfortunately courtrooms are not staged like a theater, with lawyers facing the audience. I had to draw Dennis from the back and was worried that once again the family would not approve the sketch. After a solid day of cross examinations it was finally time for closing arguments. When the jury left for a break, the judge, told the lawyers that they had to wrap up the case that night. They each only had 15 minutes to make their closing arguments. Dennis joked that they wanted to wrap things up so that the juror in the Green Bay Packers jersey could get to see the game that night. Both court officers checked in to see my progress on the sketch. They had never seen a courtroom artist in action. One officer looked just like Hank, the brother in law detective on Breaking Bad. He acknowledged that everyone tells him that. With final arguments complete, the jury was sent home and told to return the next day to deliberate. I left the courtroom feeling unsure of the outcome. Was the elderly Loretta, a victim or a generous person who lavished gifts on the people around her? Dennis’s closing argument was warm and heartfelt. He admitted that he didn’t know why the cash was spent on items that Dale used. However, Loretta trusted him enough to grant him power of attorney over her finances. When I dropped off the sketch, I was told that Dale was acquitted.

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