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Martha Stewart trial: Not the celebrity circus

Why all high profile trials are not created equal
Martha Stewart arrives with her daughter Alexis at the Federal Courthouse in New York for her securities fraud trial, January 29, 2004. Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Last Tuesday, I sat in the courtroom for the Martha Stewart opening statements.  Friends of mine who work in the office prosecuting Stewart warned me that the scene downtown was O.J.-esque, and that there were cameras and fans everywhere.  This was the next trial of the century in terms of public attention. 

Well let me tell you, they ain‘t seen nothing.  Yes, there were TV cameras outside the courthouse, but the Stewart trial lacked the madness surrounding the Simpson case, the Jackson, or even Kobe Bryant arraignments.  The Stewart case was, well, so civil. 

Most of the gallery was filled with formally dressed attorneys, reporters, and family of the two defendants.  There were few people who looked like they just came to get a glimpse of Martha. 

In fact, by the afternoon, there were some empty seats.  At the Simpson, Jackson, and Bryant arraignments, it felt like a huge tailgate party outside the courthouse --  fans having sandwiches and snacks as they waited to see the celebrity at his darkest moment. 

At the Jackson case, most of the public seats went to young female fans in T-shirts who seemed to have little interest in the proceeding apart from being in the same room as Michael Jackson.  Bryant was welcomed into and out of the court by groups of fans in Laker jerseys.  During the Simpson‘s civil case, O.J. Simpson seemed to relish the courtroom breaks so he could sign autographs and talk to fans in the hallway. 

The Stewart trial watchers seem to be there to listen to the opening statements.  It is like the difference between an outdoor rock concert and the opera; between a crowd and an audience.

That audience, by the way, was  treated to some fine lawyering on both sides.  I have to say for someone who has been to just about every high profile case of the past 10 years, the whole experience was refreshing. 

airs weeknights, 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.