Abandon all hope, ye who enter the halls of justice here, especially if ye are famous and under indictment. For the Shepards -- a mother-daughter courtroom sketch team with a wicked eye for unflattering details -- will memorialize the moment in vivid pastels. You might luck into a lenient judge, but these ladies are not inclined to mercy.
"Michael Eisner turned around and said, 'Can you give me more hair?' " says Shirley Shepard, the mom in this duo, referring to the former Disney CEO, who testified last year in a civil suit in Delaware. She is talking in the pressroom at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse in downtown Manhattan, her hands covered with chalky streaks of color, a smudge of mauve across her forehead.
"I said to him, 'What should I do about your chin?' "
Martha Stewart pleaded in vain with the Shepards at her 2003 arraignment, a hurried affair that took barely a quarter of an hour.
"Can you make me look prettier?" she begged the artists.
"There really wasn't time," chuckles Andrea, the daughter.
"I said, 'Martha, in 17 minutes?' " Shirley says.
Get it straight, perps: The Shepards are not paid to beautify the busted. No, they are paid to go where cameras can't and for 14 years, that is what they have done, carting their tools into front-row seats at the city's headliner trials and drawing as fast as they can -- four hands working one sheet of paper, finishing it with one signature. Errant celebrities, felonious CEOs, wiretapped mobsters -- if they face the music, they face the Shepards, too.
On any given day, the pair are scurrying somewhere through the New York City judicial system, or taking a field trip to courts in other states if the case has a high enough profile. (They were in Alexandria for the trial of Zacharias Moussaoui.) You'll know them by their binoculars, which they train on everyone they sketch, and by their fluorescent hair -- "We're no longer natural blondes," chirps Andrea -- and by their matching black-leather pants, a fashion gambit you don't encounter often in state and federal court.
"They're a little bit strange but very wonderful," says Murray Richman, who has represented rappers such as Jay-Z and Ja Rule. His clients love them, he says. Sean "Diddy" Combs "is a big fan. DMX hugged and kissed Shirley once. That guy has had so many cases he knows them by name."
Today, Shirley sports a T-shirt that reads "Celebrity has its price!" It's a souvenir from a rare honor for the world of court art: an exhibit of the Shepards' work, which was on display last year at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The opening of the show was crawling with lawyers, which makes sense since appearing in a Shepard is a sign that as an attorney, you've arrived.
Buying a Shepard, however, is harder than you'd think. It took lawyer Martin Geduldig six months to persuade the ladies to sell a drawing of him cross-examining a mobster named Salvatore "Fat Sal" Mangiavillano. "I thought I'd just pay for it and that'd be it," he recalls. "They kept saying they were going to get back to me, then I called and they were like, 'Oh, we forgot.' I got the feeling it was like letting go of a child."
As pitiless as they are on the page, the Shepards are cuddly in person. When they tell stories they talk over each other, under each other, not so much ending each other's sentences as trampling them. Shirley will grab at your sleeve to make a point, correcting her daughter, elaborating on a tale, engaging in a little motherly pride.
"Show him your Phi Beta Kappa key," she tells her daughter, apropos of nothing. "She went to Barnard, you know."
"She's trying to tell you we're not dumb artists," Andrea chuckles, revealing her necklace.
Andrea, in fact, was trained as an economist and employed for years at Bell Laboratories and AT&T. Her mother is a designer and artist who'd worked in fashion and textiles. The two learned at a party in 1991 that a local television station, WNBC, was looking for a courtroom sketcher. They turned up at the trial -- it was Gambino mobster Peter Gotti -- and the results were so well received that Andrea quit the corporate world for good.
She earns about what she made in the white-collar world of steady employment, she says, though the income stream varies wildly from week to week. The Shepards take home zilch some days and thousands of dollars on others, when there's a major verdict. The business has shrunk in the last decade, largely because budget cuts at newspapers and television stations have slashed demand. Once there were 13 court artists in New York, Andrea says. Today there are three. (Well, four if you count the Shepards separately.) "The only good news for us was the O.J. trial," Andrea sighs. "It was such a carnival that," all over the country, "a lot of courts said, 'We're not letting cameras in here.' "
Neither of the Shepards will touch the topic of age, waving off even vague words like "seventyish" and "fortyish." They'd rather not dwell on their living situation, either, aside from saying that they share an apartment in Chelsea.
"But don't go into that," Andrea says. "I'm single and it'll put a crimp in my social life."
During a trial, the Shepards typically pass a drawing back and forth, or they work on one piece at the same time -- Shirley shading the hair of a juror while Andrea fine-tunes a flag, for instance. They whisper nonstop.
"She's constantly talking, constantly giving me advice," Andrea says. "I'm like, 'Shhhhh. You're going to get us thrown out!' "
When finished, they rush the work out the door, leaning it up against a wall of the courthouse, where media outlets with freelance arrangements with the Shepards can snap photos.
Just don't use the work without permission, which is what Rosie O'Donnell did. The comic and former talk show host, who was a litigant after leaving the magazine founded in her name, approached Shirley and Andrea to buy sketches made during her many weeks in court. The Shepards sent printouts, so O'Donnell could browse the images, but she wouldn't meet the Shepards' price. No sale. A short while later, Shirley and Andrea attended an exhibit in Manhattan featuring O'Donnell's own artwork and were startled to see their sketches spliced into a collage of Rosie's.
The Shepards sued, and they settled out of court for a sum they are barred from mentioning. "But we're satisfied," Andrea says. If the matter had gone to trial, yes, one of the ladies would have taken the stand and the other would have captured the event for posterity.
A spokeswoman for O'Donnell did not respond to a request for comment.
Most of the Shepards' run-ins with the famous and the monied have been less time-consuming and less strenuous. Alfred Taubman, the former owner of the art auction house Sotheby's, tried to shoo them away as he was prosecuted for antitrust violations. "Get that lady off my back," Shirley recalls him hissing. It still makes her snicker.
"He's an art guy and he wants us to stop making art?" she says, dramatically throwing up her hands.
When Barbara Walters sat in the audience for the Martha Stewart trial, Shirley sidled up for a closer look, to Walters's great annoyance.
"Let's just say she wears a lot of makeup on TV," Shirley says. "I won't describe her skin. It was eye-opening, seeing it up close."
A certain nerviness is required for the life of a court artist. If you can produce at the speed of a slot machine, even better.
"I'll show you how we do it," says Andrea. She grabs a piece of a paper and a pen and starts drawing the nearest available face, which happens to belong to this reporter. "You've got a strangely shaped head," she says, staring and stabbing at a notebook with the ballpoint.
"Yeah," her mother nods. "There's a bump right there."
It's like they're staring at a corpse.
"If you let your hair grow a little longer, your head wouldn't seem so . . ."
"It bulges," says Shirley.
"Yes," says Andrea. "It's got a bulge."
"Oh God," Shirley says, sighing, turning away. "She is going to ruin your day."