It's after 10:30 Monday morning, and the Gary Hart rape trial is already more than an hour behind schedule. The delay only causes the line of people standing outside the courtroom door to swell.
Finally,a sheriff walks out of the judge's office and issues the ground rules. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. No standing is allowed. A number of seats are reserved for family members and the press.
"I expect all of you to conduct yourselves like ladies and gentlemen," the sheriff hollers. "Everybody keep your fingers crossed."
And with that warning, she opens the door. The three benches in Courtroom 7 fill up fast; all 36 spaces are gone within seconds, and people who have been waiting for an hour are turned away.
One man complained to the sheriff that others had cut in front of him. The argument didn't work.
"It's whoever gets in first," the sheriff said. "I'm sure if someone jumped up to go to the bathroom, you would have jumped in their seat."
And so it goes for a trial that seems to have piqued the interest of everyone from the casual courtroom observer toother lawyers and law clerks, many of whom say they are hooked on events in the County Courthouse in Annapolis. Even a well-publicized murder trial upstairs can't outdraw the Hart case.
On some days, like Monday and the first day of the trial last week, the courtroom was packed, with many people turned away at the door. The people who got the good seats arrived an hour before the scheduled 9:30 start. At other times, like yesterday, a couple of extra seats were available.
A good number of spectators are Hart supporters; many showed up on the first day wearing Gary Hart pins. Some have a professional interest.
Last week, judges sent their law clerks to listen to the opening arguments of Assistant State's Attorney William C. Mulford II and defense lawyer Arnold Weiner, who defended former Gov. Marvin Mandel.
Still others are drawn by the tension of a live courtroom battle, far superior to those staged on television.
"This sense of drama just doesn't come across in shows," said Bud Stupi, a teacher at Oak Hill Elementary School in Severna Park. "It is interesting where the truth is. It's somewhere, behind a chair or a book. It is amazing how the judge and the jury have to fight through everything to find it."
Stupi came to the trial last week, eager to sketch a court proceeding for the first time. Now he says he is hooked and plans to come every day until the end.
Rebecca Wickland had the day off from work Monday. "This is one of the few places you can really hear a good debate," she said.
The sensational trial has enough material to keep an afternoon soap opera stocked with plot lines.
Hart's attorneys have dug into the alleged victim's past, producing allegations that she suffers from a mental disorder that makes her fantasize about being raped and causes her to hate men.
Jurors and spectators have heard stories about undercover police officers in Michigan being shot and killed by the woman -- stories she said she made up to help her deal with being raped by a policeman when she was 16.
A former Washington Redskins linebacker told the jury about his stormy four-year relationship with the woman, saying he "had a love for the woman" even after he had to call the police because she threatened him with a knife.
The jury also has heard about the woman locking herself in a room in her boyfriend's house with a knife the day the jury was selected and tales of racial comments Hart made to a former employee.
There also has been the offbeat: testimony that Hart continually cried out the name of his ex-wife while allegedly raping the woman; that Hart wanted the woman to listen to '50s music -- especially Elvis Presley -- for two hours before the alleged attack; and that the former football player followed the woman around, checking up on her and even counting her condoms one night.
A lawyer wjp jas beem a regular Hart trial watcher, Ed Carter, cautioned against allowing the proceedings to become a show.
"It is a tragedy if a case is an attraction," he said. "There is public interest, but the public doesn't like to see society have troubles or individuals having problems . . . Everybody loses."