Courtroom sketch artist Bill Hennessy took to the podium Wednesday night, and the crowd, more than a hundred strong, some raising plastic wine glasses in salutation, rose to their feet.
"All rise!" several in the audience yelled.
"It’s just a title," Hennessy responded. "You don’t actually have to do it."
Hennessy has been sketching lawyers and judges and litigants for 27 years, mainly in the Washington-area courts, and on this night he was celebrating the publication of his first book, "All Rise," a collection of his favorite illustrations of major court cases. For $80, the 250-page book, with hundreds of illustrations, was a hot seller. Buyers eagerly tore off the plastic wrapper to get the left-handed Hennessy to autograph their copy.
Hennessy (pictured at left) is a modest man, not used to the spotlight. He’s often the first person in court, taking a seat in the front row or in the jury box, before the lawyers and court watchers show up. Hennessy is the guy with a tackle box of art supplies and a tie tucked into the front of his shirt. (He slipped on a tie as fans started showing up to Wednesday night’s book launch.) Lawyers and judges buy his work—in addition to media outlets—and there’s been very little criticism over the years.
On Wednesday night, Hennessy and his publisher, Seven Knights Publishing Co., displayed more than two dozen sketches on the first floor of the old Carnegie Library at Mt. Vernon Square, now home to the Historical Society of Washington.
“Most of them are drawings that maybe saw ten seconds of air and then, you know, on to the next story or next day even with the same case,” Hennessy said. “I would like them to be seen more than a few brief moments.”
The sketches are usually the only way to capture a moment in a federal courtroom. Cameras are prohibited in federal court. Sketch artists are not. Well, sometimes they are. Back in December, Hennessy was banned from sketching oral argument in a Guantanamo Bay case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Kelley Drye partner David Laufman was on hand last night, admiring a sketch that prominently features him during the trial of Ahmed Omar Abu Ali in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Laufman was an assistant U.S. attorney at the time he successfully prosecuted Abu Ali on charges tied to a plot to kill President George W. Bush. Looking at Hennessy’s sketch, Laufman remarked in jest that he had more hair then and was a little taller. He said he has a copy of the sketch hanging in his office.
Williams & Connolly partner Robert Cary and associate Simon Latcovich—members of the Ted Stevens defense team—also dropped by to check out Hennessy’s work. Hennessy was a mainstay at the Stevens trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Cary and Latcovich were mainstays in court, too. But true to the no-comment policy at Williams & Connolly, Cary and Latcovich (pictured above) declined to talk about their admiration for Hennessy’s work.
In addition to his sketches of famous trials—from Microsoft to the D.C. sniper trials, Iran-Contra to Michael Vick—Hennessey has captured some lesser known moments. There were three sketches on display identified as “Attorney Attacked” that show, in sequence, a defendant’s punch knocking out Alexandria, Va., solo practitioner Jonathan Shapiro in court in 2002. The prisoner’s left jab sent Shapiro’s glasses flying.
In a 1998 piece called “Anticipation,” the press is huddled together behind a rope awaiting word on a grand jury’s decision. Hennessy included himself in the gathering, his face peeking out in the crowd.
More photos from the book launch after the jump.