Federal court is one of the few places in the United States where cameras are not allowed inside. To visually capture the visual scenes of the courtroom, the public relies on courtroom artists like Elizabeth Williams. She recently drew the corruption trial of Sheldon Silver.
Elizabeth Williams is one of just five courtroom artists left in New York City. Without their work, the scenes behind the federal courtroom doors would be shrouded in even more mystery. Williams has been drawing mafia bosses, international drug smuggles, and corrupt politicians for 35 years, first in California and in New York starting in 1985. She sees her work as art, but as visual historic documentation of the U.S. legal system, and “the harmony of the melody of the words that the reporters write.”
She has drawn Donald Trump, Mick Jagger and Bernie Madoff in moments that found them at their most publicly vulnerable, yet behind closed doors. Through skill, speed, and concentration, Williams is able to portray the story of some of the country’s biggest court cases to the rest of the world outside of that courtroom.
She recently drew the case of former head of the New York State Sheldon Silver, who was convicted of using his political office to increase his own personal wealth. “I thought Shelly was going to be easy to draw. He’s not. He’s hard hard to draw,” said Williams, who lives in Silver’s former district. “He moves so much. He’s got all these expressions.”
As New Yorkers await the sentencing of Silver, we can take a glimpse into the trial that secured his political downfall.
Reporter: You said earlier you thought you’d be vindicated. Do you think you’ll be indicated as well as found not guilt.
Silver: I think they’re both the same.
Reporter: Do you think any chances will come to Albany as a result of this, or should?
Silver: We’ll deal with that later. Watch your step. I can’t see a thing.
Liz: I think the reason why they’re not allowed in federal court is because they can have an effect on the outcome of the case they can affect witnesses. They can editorialize. And so there’s no cameras in federal court now. Quite frankly I think there will be. And I think there will be I think it’s just a matter of. Personally I think it’s just a matter of time I was so.
Liz: Well because when you have a trial. And there’s no picture of that trial. You have the words to describe it but if you actually have an image. That’s historic. And that makes it a visual historic document. And that’s like the harmony of the melody of the words that the reporters write.
Liz: This is him with one witness. I’m telling you this was one witness. And there are all of these expressions in not a lot of time. I’m telling you. This was like a snippet of an afternoon. This face and that face and then. And this. And this. And most people you know when you put your hand up to your chin you figure okay He’s going to stay there for a while with the chin. Now. That. And then he moved. And then I mean he was smiling. And then it was like, I’m kill myself.
Liz: See this is hard. It’s so much better when you’re right there and you can see it. I’m just finishing up. I think she was wearing black. They all wear black. I mean everyone wears black.
Liz: You’re just doing your best you can to capture it. You’re trying to be as really as close to what it is as possible. But there’s certain times where it’s just not up long enough. And this was key to the case. You know? It was.
Liz: A potential masterwork can become an ordinary one as the time clock starts ticking, I mean, absolutely. There’s no question about that.