Federal judge ejects sketch artist from court
OKLAHOMA — A federal judge in Muskogee, Okla., ejected a Texas television station’s sketch artist from a courtroom in mid- November, claiming his work disrupted the court proceedings.
Doug Latta, sketch artist for KXII-TV in Sherman, Texas, entered U.S. District Judge Frank Seay’s courtroom for a federal $90 million racketeering trial carrying his standard equipment: a sketch pad and an art supply box. He sat three rows from the front with the reporter from the TV station.
Thirty minutes into the hearing, Judge Seay stopped the proceedings and asked the jury to leave briefly. He then asked the bailiff to escort Latta out of the courtroom, saying in open court that he finds sketch artists as disruptive as camera operators, which are not permitted in the court.
Although neither the defense nor the prosecution objected to Latta’s presence, the judge said he was disruptive. “Your bobbing your head up and down and putting your glasses on and off is just as disturbing to me” as it is to the jury, the judge said, according to a transcript of the proceedings. Judge Seay contended he saw jurors glance at the artist and found that to be distracting, according to the transcript.
The reporter from KXII approached Judge Seay and suggested that removal of the artist raised First Amendment issues. The judge responded that the reporter might have to write in the hall the next day because the judge found note-taking to be distracting, the reporter said. The reporter also said Seay told him that if Latta is a good artist, he should be able to do his sketching elsewhere after observing the courtroom.
Rich Adams, general manager of KXII, sent the judge a letter the following day asking him to reconsider his decision, noting the public’s interest in having the sketch artist in court. Two days later the court acknowledged that Judge Seay had received the letter but offered no further response.
The following week Frank Merrick III, the defendant in the trial, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of mail fraud, bringing the trial to an end. Seay had not responded to KXII’s letter by late November.