Comic gains cult following with Bundy Court Sketches
By MAXINE BERNSTEIN
PORTLAND — U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown often warned defendants, defense lawyers and spectators that she wouldn't tolerate outbursts or laughter in the courtroom during the conspiracy trials against the occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
One man, often hunched over a small pad of paper and scribbling with a pencil in the back row, paid close attention to fill the void.
Scott Klatt would take notes on the witnesses or exchanges in court, quickly draw a brief scene, add a caption and some dialogue. Then he'd post his “Bundy Court Sketches” on Twitter and Facebook, providing plenty of laughs long after court recessed.
Klatt soon became a household name to those who closely followed the two federal court trials in Portland. After the first trial last fall, he compiled his sketches in a book and received orders from defense lawyers and frequent spectators. He even got requests for his autograph.
During the second trial that just ended Friday, he sometimes won praise from defendants, who often bore the brunt of his humor.
Take Jason Patrick, who chose to represent himself with a standby attorney.
Patrick, described by prosecutors as an organizer of the refuge occupation, often butted heads with the judge. He refused to stand when Brown entered the court and had a spat with her over his tardiness.
When his mother, Vickie Patrick, took the stand in early March as a defense witness, the judge commented: “So, you are Patrick's mom.”
Klatt went from there with a sketch he called “Jason Patrick's Mum on the stand.” He drew the son's tousled hair and beard, his hands outstretched, shouting: “Look Ma! I'm a lawyer!” The standby lawyer, Andrew Kohlmetz, is shown eyeing his client nervously.
The next day, Patrick posted Klatt's sketch on his Facebook page, writing: “This cartoonist cracks me up.”
He didn't start out to sketch
Klatt, 46, had first traveled to Burns during the occupation of the refuge in January, thinking he'd make a documentary. A stand-up comic who grew up in Washington County, he'd dabbled in filmmaking.
The material for his stand-up routines came from “self-reflection,” he said, about his struggles with dyslexia or bits on “people who had real jobs.” In between, he'd find other work to help pay his bills.
He visited Burns twice, returning the second time on the night of Jan, 26, 2016, the day the FBI arrested the occupation's leaders and state police fatally shot takeover spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum.
His focus shifted to the courtroom where Bundy and others made their initial appearances. He continued to film outside the court, but federal court rules ban cameras inside courtrooms. So, he ended up dropping the camera and sitting in court, taking notes with his pad and pencil.
How it began
As defendants prepared for the first trial, Bundy one day stood up in court between his lawyers to try to address the judge himself and the judge quickly told him to take his seat.
That gave Klatt an idea: “I would just do a silly bad court sketch of the event.”
He had a “cheap No. 2 pencil” and computer paper as he made his first drawing: “I had no idea what I was doing.”
He took a photo of the drawing and shared it on his Twitter account. He gained more than 30 followers.
“I knew within 10 minutes I had something,” Klatt said. ‘So I started to draw what I saw in court and use it as a vehicle to write jokes and document the goings-on within the walls of the strangest court case anyone has ever seen."
He said he tried to follow the rules he learned in improv: Don't worry about it. Don't make it perfect. Throw it up fast.
And he kept going, posting sketches throughout the five-week trial that ended with the acquittals of Bundy and six co-defendants.
Klatt described it as his “mid-life crisis art project,” considering he never before had any interest in free-hand drawing and had recently gone through a divorce.
He was struck by all the characters in the courtroom. “Everyone from (Ken) Medenbach to (Marcus) Mumford, the diversity of the personalities was just fascinating to me,” he said.
Book takes off
He'd take notes on the interesting exchanges between the defendants, their lawyers, the judge and witnesses that might have potential for a joke.
He sometimes drew quick caricatures of the people while he sat in court, pointing out whether they had a round head or big ears or spiky hair. He fleshed out the jokes in his mind on his drive home to Tigard and would finish the sketches there.
He soon received requests from followers to compile his sketches into a book and did just that. He also included drawings of the occupation and called the self-published book, “The Migration — Snack or Die.” He sold each online for $25 and also sold some of his original artwork, earning nearly $6,000 with the sale of about 200 to 300 copies, he said.
The wife of Ammon Bundy's lawyer, Marcus Mumford, ordered one around Christmas time, Klatt said.
Defense lawyer Robert Salisbury, who represented Jeff Banta in the first trial, recently stopped by court for a signed copy.
“He captured the zany spirit of the courtroom with very few words,” Salisbury said.
During the trial that just wrapped up, Klatt included a noticeable addition to the courtroom in many of his sketches: the colorful flowers that graced the judge's bench since the first day of jury selection. Those weren't there during the initial trial.
In one scene, he depicted the dull reading aloud to jurors of a transcript of witness Brand Thornton's testimony from the first trial. A defense lawyer and his investigator read the transcript, and Klatt jotted in his notebook, “Worst Play Ever!” The judge in Klatt's sketch looks over to one of her flowers, finding it wilted, and bemoans, “You killed my flower.”
In another sketch, Klatt captured the judge's admonition of an FBI agent who, as he held up one rifle after another for jurors, seemed to point one or two in the judge's direction. “Sir, watch where you're pointing that!” Brown told the agent.
In Klatt's drawing called “FBI Agent Miss the Mark,” the agent is looking to his right and pointing to where the refuge is located on a courtroom exhibit while pointing a pistol in his left hand directly at the judge. The agent in the sketch tells the judge, “Here hold this gun.”
Klatt said he's planning to compile another book — a “narrative of one of the craziest court cases I think anyone has seen” — while he looks for a side job to pay his rent and travel to Nevada in order to sketch some of the Bundy trial there. Ammon Bundy, several of his brothers and his father all face charges there in the 2014 standoff over grazing rights near Bunkerville.
He expects to call his next book, “bundy, et al,” drawing from the official name of the Oregon court case against Bundy and 25 defendants.
“I look for the funny things around the edges — that ephemeral stuff,” he said. “I hope to give people a glimpse of what it was like to sit through a court case that can only be described as hysterically funny chaos.”
Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com