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If Scott Peterson’s murder trial is moved to Santa Clara County next week, it will be just the latest legal blockbuster to wind up here. Richard Allen Davis was tried here for the murder of Polly Klaas back in 1996. Another notorious non-local — Yosemite handyman Cary Stayner — was tried here for murder in 2002. Both were sentenced to death. Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Aldo Girolami has ordered that Peterson’s trial be moved out of Modesto, his hometown. He’s accused of killing his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn child. Girolami will decide after a hearing next week where the case will go. But he’s put Santa Clara at the top of his list. So what’s Santa Clara’s appeal? “Just lucky, I guess,” said Santa Clara Presiding Judge Thomas Hansen, who will have to scramble to find an empty courtroom plus enough staff and security if Girolami chooses to move the case to San Jose. Edward Steinman, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, says San Jose is a natural choice for sensational criminal trials. “Unlike San Francisco and Alameda, who have supposedly liberal reputations, Santa Clara is deemed to be more mixed,” Steinman said. “If the district attorney had its druthers, [the trial] would be somewhere in the Central Valley, and the defense attorneys would want to be in San Francisco or Alameda,” Steinman said. “It’s a great compromise.” Girolami, who listed San Mateo and Alameda counties as his second and third choices, told attorneys in the Peterson case that he wants the trial near a large airport and within driving distance of Modesto. Girolami himself is a San Jose native and a graduate of Santa Clara University School of Law. Personal preference probably played a role in the Davis and Stayner cases, too. The Administrative Office of the Courts had appointed retired Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Thomas Hastings to preside over those trials. “It’s obvious it was more convenient” for the judge, said Marcia Morrissey, Stayner’s Santa Monica-based defense attorney. “It’s hard to construct an argument that it’s not convenient. But I would not try to read Judge Hastings’ mind.” Morrissey said she had opposed Santa Clara and Sacramento as venues, and fought hard to transfer Stayner’s case from rural Mariposa County, where the slayings took place, to Los Angeles. “We had pretty persuasive polls conducted of the three locations being considered,” Morrissey said. “In Santa Clara and Sacramento, there was very little difference in the public’s awareness of the case and prejudice of guilt and penalty.” But, she said, “In L.A., the numbers were far different and indicated that the pool of prospective jurors knew much less about the case and formed fewer opinions.” The AOC announced Tuesday that it’s surveying trial availability in four counties — Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda and Orange. Stanislaus District Attorney James Brazelton wants Peterson’s trial to stay in Modesto. He’ll ask Girolami to reconsider his decision to move the trial, arguing that the judge relied on a tainted survey. Mark Geragos, Peterson’s L.A.-based defense attorney, has said he would prefer to see the trial moved to Alameda County. Geragos did not return a call, and Stanislaus County Deputy District Attorney David Harris declined to comment, citing a gag order. But Santa Clara, which now has two large courtrooms equipped to handle large trials, isn’t a lock. Hansen said the court already has two high-profile trials to accommodate. A suit against IBM by former employees who claim they contracted cancer from exposure to workplace chemicals isn’t expected to end until March. And a multiple-defendant criminal trial, which Hansen said might take six months, is about to begin. Hansen said he would have to scramble if the Peterson trial is to stay on schedule. “There is a trial date set for Jan. 26. I don’t think that will work for anybody,” Hansen said. He said Stanislaus County Superior Court will have to pick up the bill for extra staff and security. Even then, Hansen said that hosting big trials carries big costs. “It takes up resources, which otherwise might be devoted to other cases,” Hansen said. Even so, “We will do what we are asked to do.”

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