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Setting the ground rules for demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention, U.S. District Judge Gary Feess passed up a chance to make life easier at his and other downtown Los Angeles courthouses. The city’s plans to confine activists to designated areas, the judge ruled last month, violated free speech guarantees. So now, those charged with courthouse security are working to accommodate permits that under Feess’ ruling let demonstrators start marches at Pershing Square and parade past the Federal Building in the Civic Center. At Feess’ federal courthouse, there will be a “drastic reduction” in usual court business for the convention week of Aug. 14, according to an internal memo that Chief Judge Terry Hatter Jr. distributed. The judge cites “grave concerns about security” and asks judges to let their staffs take vacations because “effective security may not be possible in the courthouse vicinity.” No federal jury panels will be called next week, he says, and federal judges with ongoing jury trials should consider moving them south to the Santa Ana Courthouse in Orange County. The deputy clerk in Santa Ana, Janine Duffy, says no Los Angeles judge has requested trial space as of Monday, and she’s thankful. “Of course we’ll do what a judge wants, but transporting all the lawyers and jurors and others participating in a trial would be very difficult,” Duffy added. Hatter’s goal is to have the lowest profile of any of the downtown courts, with only one judge and half the court clerk’s staff on duty each day. Offering a somewhat more positive face to the public, the officer responsible for coordinating security at the downtown federal courts insists she’s most concerned about traffic jams. “Civil unrest is a possibility, but gridlock is probably going to be our biggest problem,” says Assistant Chief Aldean Lee of the U.S. Marshal’s office. Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney, with the experience of the Republican National Convention now behind him, told Associated Press his people have identified “a cadre” of individuals who led efforts to harm officers and damage city property. He said that information has been passed along to the Los Angeles Police Department. Some 400 protesters were arrested in Philadelphia during occasionally violent clashes with police, and several demonstrations blocked traffic. Police there said many activists remained in jail longer than necessary because they were uncooperative, some taking off their clothes, or refusing to give their names. The burden for dealing with that in Los Angeles would fall on the Superior Court, specifically the criminal courthouse, two blocks up Temple Street from the federal courthouse. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler, who oversees that operation, says he’s heard all the rumors and, while he hopes nothing untoward happens, he’s prepared if it does. “We’re setting our calendars as light as we can, but we are not asking for staff to take vacations,” Fidler said. The only trials will be the ones that can’t be postponed, such as those in which a defendant will not waive his 10-day speedy trial deadline. But the court will remain open. “We will not be impeded,” Fidler said. “People who are arrested and don’t give us their names won’t be doing themselves any good.” Two blocks farther west is the largest-volume courthouse in the nation, the Central Civil Courthouse, also occupied by Los Angeles Superior Court. There, says Jerrianne Hayslett, the court’s public information officer, judges have been advised to keep their calendars light, both for the sake of reducing traffic and to keep judges available if needed at the criminal courthouse. Further, she said, judges in outlying districts — there are 23, stretching from Malibu to Pomona — have been asked to keep their calendars “moderate” so that they’ll have the leeway to take transfers in the event of mass arrests. That’s why lawyers with court dates next week should check on the status of their cases, even if their cases are assigned far from downtown, Hayslett said. Fidler, Lee, and others noted that Los Angeles’ downtown courts have already had a great deal of experience with protesters, peaceful and otherwise. Emergency measures, such as employee hotlines, have already become standard operating procedure. There are no plans to replace the concrete stanchions erected briefly in front of the federal courthouse after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, said Lee, but protective film remains on windows, replacing those broken in the 1992 rioting following the acquittal of police officers accused of beating motorist Rodney King. And the central civil courthouse has already sealed off all but four of its 17 entrances as part of a security project a year ago. The newest court, the state appellate court at the Ronald Reagan Building on Spring Street, is under the protection of the California Highway Patrol and plans the least variation from its routine. There are no plans to cut staffing in the clerk’s office, and the Division 3 panel is set to hear scheduled oral arguments on Tuesday and Wednesday. Division 4 will be black, partly out of convention concerns but also because a state commission will be meeting in its space on Friday, according to Assistant Clerk/Court Administrator Daniel Potter. A lot of what happens will depend upon where demonstrators congregate, he says, noting his building is miles from Staples Center but just four blocks from the Biltmore Hotel, where many delegates will be staying, and from the Biltmore-adjoining Pershing Square. “We have contingency plans in the event things start to go haywire,” Potter continued. “We’ve suggested to people that now might be a good time to refresh their earthquake supplies, and to bring in several days’ worth of any medication they’re taking — in case the building manager decides there will be a lockdown.” Encino sole practitioner Steven Murray, who had oral arguments scheduled before a Division 4 panel on Aug. 17 — the last day of the convention — says the court’s clerk has notified him the proceedings are being postponed until the following Monday. “They didn’t explain why,” Murray observed, “but I can guess.”

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