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BY CYNTHIA MAGNUS | “New York City has many, many cases of a high profile nature,” said Assistant Chief Walter Glowacz, of the Department of Public Safety for the Courts. In his 34th year with the courts, Glowacz has been present at 100 Centre Street for the cases of John Gotti, Bernhard Goetz, Dennis Kozlowski and Mark David Chapman, among others. He said of the media attention to ex-IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, however, “This is the biggest amount of press we’ve had.”
Compared to some other cases that drew massive media attention, Chief Glowacz characterized the Strauss-Kahn proceedings as an “international event” that attracted a large body of foreign journalists from throughout the world, including Norway, the Philippines, Germany, France, Japan and China.
David Bookstaver, Communications Director for the New York State Courts, said, “I have never seen a press assemblage like this.” Having dealt with the media in many high-profile cases during his 15-year tenure with the courts, Bookstaver said of the press interest in the hearings for Strauss-Kahn, “Nothing is comparable.” Not even, he said, the cases of celebrities like supermodel Naomi Campbell or hip-hop producer Sean “Puffy” Combs.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn stands indicted on seven charges related to an alleged sex attack on a housekeeper at a Times Square hotel on May 14. Released on a $ 6 million bail package that includes house arrest, Strauss-Kahn appeared in court on Monday, June 6, to plead not guilty to the charges against him. A trial date has not yet been set.
So how do court personnel handle an inordinate number of foreign and national journalists crowding the courthouse?
“We have lots of practice,” said Bookstaver.
Fewer famous people get booked in the suburbs of New York City, it seems, or even other boroughs.
“It happens in Manhattan,” noted Bookstaver.
Bookstaver said he and Glowacz, “worked hand-in-hand to ensure that the security issues were addressed and the media issues were addressed” for the May hearings in the Strauss-Kahn case. Their responsibilities include orchestrating the arrivals and departures of the defendant, the defendant’s family, and the lawyers, as well as dealing with a legion of journalists — in a building where 3 to 4 thousand other ‘court users’ come daily to conduct business of their own.
Laura Haim is the White House Correspondent and U.S. Bureau chief for the French television station “Canal Plus”. She came to New York from Washington D.C. to cover the D.S.K. case with a colleague flown in from Paris, and tried to convey the deep “shock” that the case has caused the French people: “It’s a political tsunami,” said Haim. “Everyone was talking about him as the next French president and now he’s trapped in the American legal system for rape.” She also said that the use of cameras in the courtroom illustrates a culture gap between our two societies. “French people are not used to this level of attention,” said Haim. “Here in the U.S. nobody’s above the law, and John Doe and D.S.K. are treated the same way.”
Stephen B. Shepard, Dean of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, said of Strauss-Kahn, “If he were not likely [to have been] the next president of France, there would not be this attention.”
Nilas Johnsen, a London-based journalist for the Norwegian newspaper VG, was present in the audience for the May 19 bail hearing. He said that though VG has a New York bureau to cover the Strauss-Kahn case, he was flown in because the story was “too big.” “This is the world’s most powerful banker,” Johnsen said.
With competition stiff for a seat in the courtroom pews, Bookstaver is challenged to accommodate all requests. “There is some method to fitting a square peg in a round hole,” he said of handling reporters competing for limited space in the press-only audience. “The plan was pretty simple. Start with an empty room, and bring in the in-house press first.” These are the reporters, Bookstaver explained, who work in the building every day. Then he had to make choices.
“My logic was one [reporter] per media outlet,” said Bookstaver.
Bookstaver says he was sensitive to the needs of the major papers in France, and tried to keep in mind what it would be like to be journalist in another country covering a story of great national interest. Beyond this he, “tried to get people in who have the greatest readership.”
Glowacz explained that while Bookstaver deals with the media portion of a high profile case, he deals with the security personnel. Among his priorities is to “make the courtroom a safe place.” He establishes an “incident command structure” consisting of supervisors responsible for the court officers who handle the magnetrometers and security posts, and who facilitate the defendant’s movement in and out of the building. They may also set up a press pen for a debriefing by the district attorney or counsel. These measures are all evaluated in advance, said the chief.
“This week we have a plan for next week,” he said. “We work well together,” said Glowacz about the offices of Public Safety and of Communications, “We come up with a plan and stick with it. It’s also a very fluid situation, we talk while it’s going on, we have to be ready to make adjustments as things change.”
There were twelve court officers present at the May bail hearing, including four seen standing by the defendant. Bookstaver would not discuss how many are usually present in a courtroom, but said that twelve, while more than the usual number, is not unusual for a case of this magnitude.
Glowacz said that his office might communicate with Police Inspector Gin Yee of the nearby Fifth Precinct or with the Department of Corrections, depending on circumstances around the courthouse, or the movement of the defendant. The defendant’s family is a “big thing” said Glowacz, and getting them in and out of the building safely and efficiently is important. He noted the paparazzi that followed Strauss-Kahn’s family by motorcycle after the bail hearing, and judged that if Strauss-Kahn’s case moves toward trial the media attention “will be beyond this [current high level].”
“It’s not that hard to do it right,” Bookstaver said about handling a large media presence at a high profile case, “If you have a lot of people coming, you have to plan for them. It’s our house.”
Strauss-Kahn’s next court date, for pre-trial proceedings, is July 18.