Last week, I had the honor to give a gallery talk on the Library of Congress exhibit, Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustration. As a co-curator for the exhibit, I had helped in doing legal research for information about the cases portrayed by the drawings in the exhibit. At the talk, I spoke about the challenge of doing legal research for state and federal trial court cases. Very few of the opinions from trial courts are published. Locating information for many of these cases was difficult and in many instances the best source of information was an appeals court decision on a case. Many of the appellate court decisions I found provide a rich trove of information about the trial court case with a detailed exposition of the issues. The other challenge in doing legal research for this exhibit was that I only used free online resources. Luckily, in the last several years there has been an explosion of websites that provide access to published court decisions: Justia, Findlaw, Google Scholar, the Public Library of Law, and Casetext to name a few.
Using these resources, I spoke about three of the items in the exhibit for which I was able to find information. The first drawing was a New York state criminal case, People v. Guzman. It involved a pretrial issue as to whether Alex Naiman who was deaf was qualified to be a potential juror. The judge’s decision, 478 NYS2d 455 (1984) ruled in Naiman’s favor. The decision also used this opportunity to educate people about changes in the New York court rules that allowed deaf people in the jury pool.
One of the other drawings I spoke about was a drawing of the Bamboo Union trial. In this situation, we had the appellate court decision, United States v. Chang An-Lo, aka White Wolf, 851 F.2d 547 (1988), that provided detailed information about a Chinese criminal syndicate which operated in several countries and committed crimes ranging from drug smuggling to the murder of a journalist, and which was brought down in part by an undercover agent. The first few paragraphs of the court’s decision alone would provide a basis for an exciting movie script.
The third drawing involved one of several actions between Jackie Onassis and the photographer Ron Galella. In this 1982 decision, Galella v. Onassis, 533 F.Supp. 1076 (S.D.N.Y.), the judge was ruling on the question as to whether Galella had violated the court’s 1975 order governing his interactions with Mrs. Onassis. As part of the decision, the judge traced the court interactions, charges and countercharges between the two parties over a 12 year period, providing a detailed narrative. As is often the situation, the decision was not just a dry legal ruling but a story about two protagonists.
Sara W. Duke, co-curator at the exhibition, was also at this talk, and helped with questions about the exhibit, providing information about the courtroom drawing collections at the Prints & Photographs Division as well as the relationships between courtroom illustrators and the news outlets that employ them.
The Drawing Justice exhibit will continue through the fall and we will return with additional gallery talks in September and October. The exhibit can also be viewed online for those not in the Washington, D.C. area but if you are coming to our nation’s capital this summer, we hope you will visit the Library of Congress and all our exhibits!