Hollywood is about to collide with the typically low-key environs of the John Joseph Moakley US Courthouse, with armed federal marshals standing sentry outside, the possibility of hundreds of spectators jockeying daily for a limited number of courtroom seats, and reporters arriving from around the world to chronicle the long-awaited trial of notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bulger.
In anticipation of the trial’s start next week, even the workers in the second-floor courthouse cafeteria have been prepping for the kinds of lunchtime crowds they have never seen before.
“Everyone is ramping up,” said Catherine Mitchell, manager of Gourmet Caterers, which runs the cafeteria.
The trial of Bulger, who is facing a sweeping indictment that includes 19 murder charges, is expected to create a nearly cinematic climax to an extraordinary reign of terror, a years-long manhunt, and a capture that most people assumed would never happen, all of it overlaid with the specter of corruption at the highest levels of US law enforcement.
With jury selection set to begin next week, court officials expect hundreds of people will be flocking to the courthouse each day to witness the great American mob trial, and officials are scrambling to prepare accommodations
“There are going to be lines outside,” said Gary Wente, chief executive of the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, the district that covers Massachusetts.
The last time the court anticipated such a crowd was in the case of Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber,” who ultimately pleaded guilty in 2002. Officials in Bulger’s case expect a drawn-out trial that could last into September.
Court officials gave media representatives an update Wednesday on plans and logistics for the trial, which were first announced in April.
Opening arguments could take place as soon as June 10, and the court expects more than 50 media representatives from local and national outlets including Fox News and CNN, as well as reporters from international publications, specifically outlets in Bulger’s ancestral home of Ireland.
In the courtroom, which has seating for about 70, about 16 to 20 seats have been reserved for the media, including two sketch artists. Photography is not allowed in a federal courthouse.
A closed-circuit video feed has been set up in an “overflow” courtroom on a separate floor to accommodate reporters who do not get into the courtroom.
The main courtroom will have about 15 seats reserved for the public, and they will be offered on a first come, first served basis each day.
The remaining seats will be reserved for the families of Bulger's alleged victims, as well as for officials in the US attorney’s office, members of the defense team, and federal investigators assigned to the case. Another row has been reserved for Bulger’s family members.
Court officials also plan to establish a closed-circuit video feed in a third courtroom for members of the public, and the large jury assembly area will be set up with a video feed if needed.
The courthouse front doors will open around 7:30 a.m. each day. Court staff members plan to open the courtroom around 8:15, with proceedings expected to start at 8:45.
Officials expect that the public attendance will fluctuate during the trial, but they expect anywhere between 200 to 300 people on any given day, with the majority of the public watching from a feed in the overflow room.
“We’re preparing for a high degree of public interest, a high degree of media interest,” said Wente.
At the cafeteria on the second floor, where crowds typically congregate before and after testimony each day, the Gourmet Caterers staff has already made preparations. The cafeteria will offer premade sandwiches, salads, and pizza slices. Deli meats will be preproportioned. And a third cash register will be installed.
“Coffee will be flowing all day,” said Mitchell, the manager.
She said no one can recall anticipating such a crowd since the Reid case, and they are preparing for the daily rush.
“We’re doing a couple of little things, just to deal with the impact,” she said. “None of us have seen anything like this.”