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Whenever Courtney Love goes to court in Los Angeles someone from Allan Parachini’s office makes a point of showing up. As public information staffers for the superior court, it’s their job to anticipate cases that will attract a crowd. And experience tells them that curiosity runs high when it comes to a publicly outrageous rock star. “We have somebody at every proceeding involving Courtney Love,” said Parachini, the public information officer who heads the seven-person office. For well over a decade, L.A. and San Diego counties have formalized the role of judicial public information officers, according to state court official. They’re not alone anymore. Courtroom dramas are a hot commodity in the media, and other courts throughout the state have found press liaisons useful in streamlining information requests and dealing with the glare of attention. Over the past year in California alone, cases against pop star Michael Jackson and actor Robert Blake attracted months of coverage. Even the drama that unfolds among decidedly un-famous characters can become media sensations, as in the 2004 murder prosecution of fertilizer salesman Scott Peterson in San Mateo County. “If you look at the top 20 stories on cable television over the last year, I would say more than half of them involve court cases,” observes Chris Crawford, president of court management consultant firm Justice Served. “You can’t ignore that. “Until it happens to you, you don’t appreciate how totally consuming it can be to have a notorious trial,” added Crawford. “Let’s face it � the media does need some care and feeding by someone who is trained in what the role is.” Some courts that find themselves only occasionally besieged look for other ways to deal when the press corps descends. In Contra Costa County this fall, teenager Scott Dyleski was charged with murdering the wife of criminal defense attorney and sometime TV commentator Daniel Horowitz (who was already making headlines as a lawyer for murder defendant Susan Polk in the same county). The local presiding judge says his court fell back on its usual procedure: designating a senior manager to serve as a press contact when a big case rolls in. Contra Costa also imitated Santa Barbara and San Mateo’s courts, which used the Web to deal with the media frenzy created by the Jackson and Peterson trials. A relatively new rule in California lets criminal court records be posted online if a case has gained widespread notoriety. Contra Costa’s page on the Dyleski prosecution has cut down on lines in its clerk’s office, according to Presiding Judge Thomas Maddock. “Within four hours of a document being filed, we get it on the Web.” So, although a public information officer has been labeled a long-term need in his court’s plans, Maddock says they can get by without one for now. “It would be easier on myself and my staff here if we had a PIO. . . . [But] it happens so rarely, we can tough it out,” he said. Membership in the national Conference of Court Public Information Officers has increased by 55 percent since 2001, from 71 to 110 members, according to David Sellers, president-elect of the organization. “There certainly has been a trend in courts becoming more aware of their public information and public outreach needs,” he said. “Whether they meet [those needs] through full-time PIOs or not is something that will vary.” ENTER THE PIO J.W. Brown, the current president of the group, says she hasn’t noticed a “huge swelling” in the number of PIOs in the last nine years. But she says the job is increasingly recognized as a profession unto itself. Lynn Holton, who has spent more than 20 years as PIO for the California Supreme Court and the state’s Judicial Council, said Los Angeles’ and San Diego’s are the only California trial courts she’s aware of that have had full-time public information officers for at least 15 years. Though courts in other counties, such as Orange and Santa Clara, have come onboard in recent years, “It is still a relatively new profession in the courts,” she said. Los Angeles’ superior court boasts the biggest such operation in the state, which isn’t surprising given its proximity to Hollywood and its rank as the state’s biggest superior court. Parachini, who spent more than two decades as a reporter before jumping into public relations with a job at the ACLU of Southern California, heads an office responsible for, among other things, putting out an annual report and a magazine. But more than anything else, the office spends its time helping judges or court administrators cope with the press. “So many judges were confronting situations where they had to concentrate on judging, and that was being challenged severely by media demands,” Parachini said. Any time they expect a press corps of at least 10 for a trial, one of his staffers spends the day in the gallery, too. And if they don’t know about it beforehand, they’re on call. “Our commitment to the judges is that, if traffic conditions are normal, we can be anywhere except Malibu or Lancaster within an hour,” Parachini said. Once they get to court, the PIOs still have traffic to manage. Part of the job is deciding when to rein in interviews that clog up the courthouse hallways. In recent years, the “interview circles” have grown, helped by the increasing popularity of Internet news sites and blogs, the presence of more foreign-language stations and a heightened interest in celebrity court cases from shows like “Access Hollywood,” “Inside Edition” and “Entertainment Tonight.” Celebrities are far from the only attraction, though. In the past, Santa Clara County has played change-of-venue host to some high-profile murder cases, such as the 1993 abduction and murder of Polly Klaas and the 2002 trial of Cary Stayner, who was accused of multiple murders near Yosemite National Park. Nothing that big has hit the county court recently, said public information officer Carl Schulhof. But during roughly a year on the job, he’s had plenty of horrific or oddball cases to keep him busy. There was “the infamous Wendy’s chili case,” for one, though a woman’s claim that she discovered a severed fingertip in her food turned out to be false. And then the current case against accused serial child molester Dean Arthur Schwartzmiller earlier this year, and the woman who was charged last month with child endangerment in the death of a toddler hit by a train. In Orange County Superior Court, where Carole Levitzky was hired as the first PIO six years ago, a job that started focusing on media relations has grown beyond it. “There’s a growing concern,” Levitzky said, “that the public doesn’t understand how the court system works.” So last year she hired people to staff an information desk in one of the county’s courthouses, where anyone can ask questions about civil or criminal matters. DUCT-TAPE SOLUTIONS Most superior courts don’t have a PIO at all, notes Tamara Beard, court executive officer in Fresno County. Her court took a middle path about five years ago, making the jury manager � already informally handling school tours and press releases � the point person for the press. Sherry Spears, a court employee for more than two decades, is now the juror and public services manager/media coordinator. There seems to be a similar arrangement in Sacramento County Superior Court, where administrative analyst Pam Reynolds, whose job includes media relations, says an influx of election-related writs can be expected to hit her court during every statewide campaign season. But some counties that only see the spotlight once in a while don’t see the need to designate a staffer for press relations. San Francisco Superior Court has made national headlines in recent years because of the constitutional battle over California’s marriage laws, as well as the 2003 indictment of the police department’s top command staff. But the court’s press set-up remains pretty low-key. Court CEO Gordon Park-Li handles general press inquiries, he said, but doesn’t get called often. He remembers getting inquiries, for example, about litigation surrounding a ball hit by Barry Bonds a few years back. “What I find,” he added, “is that often the judges that are involved in those cases handle the press.” Some years ago, Alameda County’s trial court approached San Francisco’s with the suggestion that they share a PIO. But Park-Li says tight budgets and logistical concerns made it an unappealing idea. “I just thought it would be a little unwieldy,” he said. CARE AND FEEDING The shared-PIO concept isn’t completely dead. Maddock, the presiding judge of the Contra Costa County court, says he’s heard some vague interest in the region about the idea of a shared PIO, but the idea is “in the beginning stages.” Crawford, the court management consultant, says an employee devoted to handling the press and community outreach is a good idea, particularly for large courts. While he acknowledges it’s not always feasible, “You’d better have at least one, if not a cadre, of your management staff trained in the discipline.” He recalls the years he worked for a Southern California trial court, a position that included some press relations. And he remembers in one child molestation case trying to get across what a felony preliminary hearing was � some reporters kept calling it a trial, he said. “The stories are going to run anyway,” Crawford said. “The question is, is it going to be accurate, is it going to be the whole picture, or are we going to propel myths?”

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