Peterson: After the Trial

November 5, 2003

Jeff Jardine: Everyone at courthouse in spotlight

Curtis, a 35-year-old Modestan, emerged from the Stanislaus County Courthouse and ambled down the stairs on a brilliant, crisp fall morning.

His hearing on a methamphetamine possession charge had just ended, his court paperwork still in hand.

And as he came down the steps, Curtis unwittingly became part of the background for the Sacramento-based "Armstrong & Getty Show" and at least one other live TV broadcast Tuesday morning.

Smile. You're on not-so-candid camera.

It is yet another element of Scott Peterson's preliminary hearing.

You want reality TV? Try this for reality:

Anyone who enters and exits through the main doors of the courthouse during the Peterson trial has a chance of being on television.

Hand-held or on tripods, several and sometimes dozens of cameras spend day after day pointed toward the courthouse steps to catch a glimpse of Peterson attorney Mark Geragos or Gloria Allred, who represents prosecution witness Amber Frey.

They also use the building as a backdrop for their live shows and news updates.

The 11th Street entrance is the only public access to the courtrooms. Anyone who uses it will get an idea of what Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid must have experienced when they tried to escape the Bolivian army.

Whether you're at the courthouse to judge or be judged, you're in the camera sights -- like it or not.

Some folks do, some don't. Some don't care.

"I had no idea I'd be on camera," Curtis said. "That's totally wacko. And I wasn't even able to see myself. That's sad."

Roni, a twenty-something Modestan, knew what she would face when she attended her divorce and child custody hearing.

"I was over at my dad's house this morning and saw it on TV," she said. "I thought, 'Oh, God! I'm going to be there in a few minutes.' I told my dad to look for me."

She paused for a moment before adding, "Had I thought about it earlier, I'd have had my hair done."

A Turlock resident named Charmaine left the courthouse after jury duty, passing by the cameras.

"Yes and no," she said, when asked if they made her self-conscious. "I knew they weren't looking for me. They were looking for Geragos (absent from Tuesday's hearing) and Allred. But yeah, somewhat."

A Modesto resident named Doug, at the courthouse to answer for a citation for driving on a suspended license, didn't seem to care that he got his brief moment of fame.

"It doesn't bother me," he said, his arms sweeping in the direction of media row. "It's a big show."

And Wanda, a 67-year-old Modestan on jury duty for more than a week, seemed unmoved by the intrusion.

"You get used to it," she said. "It's been going on so long -- in the newspapers and on TV. It's not too bad."

After all, if you've been to the bank or cash machine, to the minimart or any other place of business, you've been videotaped. But unless the camera catches you in the act of robbing the place, those tapes are not going to make local TV or the networks.

Still, I wonder how many people have been outed by the cameras in the past week after calling in sick because they had to go to court for spousal abuse, drunken driving or drug charges, and didn't want their bosses to know.

There is no escape. You're at the mercy of a cameraman and a producer who put you onto TV screens throughout the nation.

So dress nicely, smile and ask a friend to tape your day at court.

Jeff Jardine can be reached at 578-2383 or

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