The secret lives of the famous often yield some strange and fascinating facts, such as unexpected hobbies and unusual talents that do not always make it into the history books.

 

This holds true for presidents: George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, for instance, were hemp farmers, and Millard Fillmore was such a committed firefighter he once joined a bucket brigade while president to douse a blaze at the Library of Congress on Christmas Eve 1851. Richard Nixon was a poker shark, fleecing his fellow sailors while in the Navy and, of course, Arkansas’ own Bill Clinton played a mean saxophone.

 

Celebrities also present a world of hobbies and pastimes that range from the interesting to the peculiar to the downright bizarre. Actor and director Ben Stiller is reportedly an avowed Trekkie, game show host Bob Barker studied karate under Chuck Norris, and Sarah Jessica Parker is a committed knitter. Angelina Jolie is known for her dagger collection, and both celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and classic rocker Rod Stewart began life as former rising stars in elite-level soccer.

 

Arkansas native Chanley Painter, who recently made the move to Fox News from Court TV, can hang with the best of them when it comes to an unusual range of skills and a varied backstory. Painter, a native of Conway, is a journalist, attorney and pageant winner who was named Miss Arkansas USA in 2009, as well as a devout Christian, an accomplished fiddler, a former model, an accomplished martial artist and, it has been reported, someone who bakes a stellar batch of cookies.

Arkansas native Chanley Painter, who had a career in law before pursuing journalism, recently moved from Court TV to Fox News.

With such a laundry list of interests and skills, one might wonder if settling on a single career path was difficult for the now-40-year-old. She said it was not, thanks to a lifelong fascination with the law and true crime.

 

“I think my family recognized pretty early on that going to law school was a natural fit for me,” Painter said. “Instead of Saturday morning cartoons, I watched Matlock reruns and Perry Mason episodes. That and my natural love of history and the process of government and reading and writing classes [made law] a fit for me.”

 

After earning a degree in political science from her hometown University of Central Arkansas, Painter took advantage of a unique current degree program offered by the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock that included a juris doctor. Life did not exactly settle into a single-track rhythm after graduation; she started a private practice and served as a part-time prosecutor, all while still feeling the nagging pull of TV news.

 

“Growing up, the news was always on at my home 24/7, and I carried that on to college and my adult life,” she said. “I would watch legal analysts on the news, and I thought, ‘Maybe I could do that.’ I submitted my resume to the news director at NBC and Fox in Little Rock several years ago, and I said, ‘If you ever need a legal analyst, here’s my resume. I’d be happy to do whatever to get some experience.’”

 

Several months later, in 2016, a local station reached out, inviting her on-air analysis in connection with coverage of the trial in the case of Beverly Carter, a Little Rock real estate agent who was kidnapped and killed two years earlier. Carter, who worked for Crye-Leike Real Estate, had been lured by her assailants to a listing in Scott, thinking she was meeting a couple interested in buying the property. Despite the horrifying events surrounding the case, Painter was hooked.

 

“I had to make a decision. In order to be on television, I could not be a sitting prosecutor. I had to decide which path I wanted to take, so I quit my job as a prosecutor to pursue other opportunities,” she said. “I told the news director, ‘What else do you have for me? I quit my job. I want to learn.’ He gave me opportunities to learn journalism, learn the news business, by doing it.”

 

The early gigs she was assigned were also meant to test her mettle in the 24-hour, often exhausting world of news reporting. As station personnel soon discovered, Painter was not one to back down from a challenge.

 

“I think the first opportunity that opened up was the 2 a.m. early morning shift at KARK. I believe someone was on maternity leave. They gave me what nobody else wanted, right, to test me, to find out if this is what I really wanted to do,” she said. “Over the course of about two years, I learned how to find stories, pitch stories, how to write a package and a story for the news. I learned live-shot reporting. I also had to learn how to work the camera and how to edit my own pieces for air before I was qualified to be hired there full time.”

 

After three years with KARK, Painter made the jump to Court TV, which achieved wide publicity during the O.J. Simpson trial and was being relaunched in 2019. She was the only on-air legal correspondent the network had at the time, and that gave her a head start on all the reporters that were to follow because the most senior correspondent generally handles the most high-profile cases. A few of her most recognizable assignments since were trials involving Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, the Murdaugh Murders, Harvey Weinstein and Derek Chauvin, who was on trial for killing George Floyd.

chanley painter Fox

After quitting her job as a prosecuting attorney, Painter spent three years learning the ins and outs of the news business at KARK before moving to Court TV.

“All of the big trials that I got to be present for, I’m very thankful for the opportunity,” she said. “Sometimes it comes down to seniority. I’d been here the longest, and I’m the most experienced one. The biggest trials, they usually send the most senior correspondents or anchors who want to be in the field to go to that trial.

 

“A lot of times in breaking news situations, however, it almost comes down to the luck of the draw. For example, in 2022, four college students in Idaho were brutally stabbed. I had just finished a trial in Waukesha, Wisconsin, the trial of the man who drove through a parade. The very next day, they wanted to send someone to the breaking news of the students stabbed, and it happened to be me. I got in early, and it was my story after that.”

 

Working at the intersection of journalism and the law was a dream job for Painter. She said she saw her role as one of public service, showcasing the workings of an important mechanism of civilized society and bringing them into the living room.

 

“Our nation’s courtrooms are public courtrooms,” she said. “At Court TV, our goal is to bring people in. A lot of times, courtroom space is very limited, and even if you wanted to attend some trials, there’s not room inside the courtroom to watch it unfold in person. Also, each state varies as far as the laws concerning access of cameras and how public the trials can be.

 

“We’re all about transparency and shining the sunshine into our public courtrooms and on our public officials to make sure that they do their job appropriately, ethically, and are held accountable when they don’t.”

 

Painter said cameras and publicity do not distort for TV what might normally be a pedestrian trial save for the famous participants.

 

“Let’s talk about the Derek Chauvin trial, who was convicted of the murder of George Floyd,” she said. “That was the first trial in Minnesota that allowed a camera inside the courtroom, and it was very restricted and limited to that one camera and certain things you could show. It was during [the COVID-19 pandemic] so there was not a gallery open to people of the public. That was the reason the judge allowed the camera was to make up for the fact that there wasn’t room inside the courtroom for a public viewing space.

 

“A trial like that, that had divided opinions on both sides, was a way to showcase the evidence instead of people being able to speculate about this or that or to question a ruling by the judge as biased. They can watch it for themselves and hear the arguments for themselves and see the witness on the stand and decide for themselves that this happened or that happened and can better understand why a jury would reach the verdict that it reached.”

 

As for the personal toll her job has taken, Painter said it is not as bad as one might think, although she said she is probably wired for this kind of work.

 

“I get asked a lot about how difficult it may be to talk about murder all day long and go through life not being depressed or affected a lot by it,” she said. “As an attorney and a prosecutor, I had to deal with a lot of negative issues, and you learn to compartmentalize those issues that you’re dealing with at work away from your private life.

 

“I am also the weirdo who can watch a documentary about a serial killer and sleep peacefully at night or veg out on the couch on Saturday to Dateline and 48 Hours episodes and Forensic Files. I just love and am fascinated by true crime and the science of solving crime and the investigation of it all.”

 

Upon further reflection, Painter took a step back as if plumbing the depth of the question.

 

“I shouldn’t say it doesn’t ever affect me. There have been moments,” she said. “I think it’s a different layer when you’re there in person. I can cover it from the studio or watch it from my couch, but when you’re there in the courtroom in the gallery and on one side you see the victim’s family crumbling, and on the other side you see the defendant’s family, who didn’t ask to be there or didn’t want this to happen, it’s another dynamic. You can’t help but be affected by what’s happening around you.

 

“There’s been a couple times when I couldn’t do a live shot because of something that happened in the courtroom. I had to take a moment to collect myself before I got in front of the camera.”

Two particularly impactful moments in her career illustrate what she means. The first was an on-air encounter with Beth Holloway, mother of Natalee Holloway, the Alabama teen who disappeared in 2005 while on a graduation trip to Aruba. Last October, longtime prime suspect Joran van der Sloot officially confessed to the slaying in federal court.

 

“Beth Holloway is an inspiring tower of strength and grace and determination. It really was an honor for me to meet her and sit down with her,” said Painter, who added that she and Natalee are about the same age. “She had finally learned what she’d been fighting to hear for 18 years. She told me she can put it behind her. She can finally move on. She believes his confession is true.”

 

The second moment that stands out involved the 2019 trial of Amber Guyger, an off-duty Dallas police officer who had arrived home to her apartment complex, went to the wrong floor and entered the wrong apartment. Seeing the occupant, Botham Jean — who, incidentally, graduated from Harding University in Searcy and worked in Dallas as an accountant — Guyger shot the unarmed man dead on his couch, thinking him an intruder. Guyger received 10 years for the crime.

 

“What moved me the most was during sentencing hearing,” Painter said. “In Texas, once you’re convicted of a crime, the jury sits on and hears impact statements, defense witness statements and mitigation, and then they determine the sentence. It was very difficult to sit and listen to family and friends talk about him in the courtroom. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place.

Working at the intersection of law and journalism, Painter said it is a matter of public service to shed light on the inner workings of the legal system.

“The very last witness was the younger brother, Brandt Jean, and he told Amber Guyger that he forgave her, and he asked to hug her in the courtroom. I was one of the few inside the courtroom who saw that transpire in person, and I’ve never seen a judge grant permission for anything like that during a trial. ‘It was the hug felt around the world’ is what we said.”

 

“I think that spoke volumes,” she added. “Of all the controversy over the issue and the racial aspects to this case that were brought in, the people who were clearly divided over what happened and how it should have happened and what the jury sentenced her with. To me, that hug helped symbolize how it should be handled. Clearly, I’m still affected by that.”

 

As for her new role at Fox News, Painter is philosophical about the change, saying her faith tells her that career experiences and opportunities, like anything else in life, are directed from above.

 

“I’m a person of faith, and my faith has been tested in this job, absolutely,” she said. “It started when I became a prosecutor in Arkansas, and I was assigned to juvenile court. To hear and see things that happened to babies reaffirmed to me that true evil exists in this world, that there is a battle [between good and evil]. It could be scary if I didn’t have my faith. I don’t know how people handle it without having some sort of faith.

 

“As for a specific job, I believe that God has a plan for your life, and whatever that is for me, I want to do it to my best ability. I’m always about continuing to grow and learn and challenge myself. I like to say I’m open to a lot of possibilities.” 

 

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