Calif. counties compete for Scott Peterson trial

High-profile case could bring publicity, money

January 19, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SAN JOSE, Calif. - It took Anne LeClair a split second to realize that there was opportunity in the murder trial of Scott Peterson, who is accused of killing his wife, Laci, and their unborn son.

As soon as her county was identified as one of a handful of possible trial locations, LeClair, a tourism official, was collecting business cards and putting together promotional materials.

"I FedExed the package the next day to the presiding judge," said LeClair, president and chief executive of the San Mateo County Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It said that we understand that we are one of the spots; if you select us, here is some stuff to pass along to the media."

To some it may sound crass, but some Bay Area officials are hoping to lure Peterson's trial to a courtroom in their communities, and evidently no disrespect is intended.

The judge in the case, Al Girolami of Stanislaus County Superior Court, is to decide tomorrow where to hold the trial. State officials say San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda counties in the San Francisco area are in contention, as is Orange County in Southern California.

The Bay Area communities are no slouches when it comes to promotional pitches - two years ago the Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee was in a feverish competition with New York City to vie for the 2012 Olympic Games.

This time, however, no one dares call them pitches. Interest in the trial is more aptly characterized as yearning, and idle chatter about Peterson's guilt or innocence is considered unseemly.

"I am going to let the jury decide that one," LeClair said.

That said, tourism officials are seeing nothing but dollar signs in the media frenzy expected to follow Peterson from Stanislaus County, in what has been among the most publicized murder cases in the country since O.J. Simpson was acquitted more than eight years ago.

"I am not saying it is the same as us getting the Olympics or something, but some of these trials go on three or four months," said Daniel N. Fenton, president and chief executive of the San Jose Convention and Visitors Bureau, a major promoter of Santa Clara County.

In Oakland, the biggest city in Alameda County, Manette Belliveau, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she could envision no downside to landing such an event. She dismissed a suggestion that the winning county's association with the murders might taint it.

"If anything, having the media here is always to our advantage," Belliveau said.

LeClair, whose organization represents 140 hotels in a county still struggling from the dot-com collapse, said she had been "careful not to lobby" the judge in her package, sent a little more than a week ago.

"It presents all kinds of opportunity for us to showcase San Mateo County to a national audience and put it on the map," LeClair said of the trial. "If it happens, we are going to make the most of it."

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