Reporter's Notebook: Fog, Furor in Modesto

The winter fog envelops the Modesto (search) courthouse, giving it a grayish London look.

The air is crisp and burns the lungs a bit as we walk from our nearby hotel to our live location just across from the front door of the court.

This is our second winter season covering the Peterson murder case, and after today's hearing we will all move 90 miles to the west, where the salty bay breezes will mix with the famous Bay Area fog.

Redwood City, Calif., is the new home for Scott Peterson's (search) double-murder trial. In the meantime, the legal wrangling continues between the prosecution and the latest fashionable defense attorney, Mark Geragos, over who will preside over this case.

A retired judge is the battlefront today, the honorable Richard Arnason (search), famous for presiding over the activist Angela Davis (search) case back in the 1970s. Davis, an admitted communist at the time, was acquitted of helping prisoners escape from the Marin County California jail.

The District Attorney says Arnason is prejudiced, and under California law the prosecutors get one removal, so Arnason is out. But Geragos argues the prosecution already used its removal several months ago, and in any case, it waited too long to oust the new judge.

This is a carnival for the legal eagles who watch every move coming from the courthouse. There has been a plethora of motions and hearings, and the trial itself could last as long as six months when it does get started.

When asked about the intense interest the case brings to Modesto, a county spokesman says, "I'll be happy no one calls me anymore asking what kind of jail dinner Scott ate, Scott's suit Armani."

Outside, the scene is controlled chaos. As at many major court hearings, the streets around the courthouse are shut down. Big-rig satellite trucks, their mushroom tops pointed toward the sky, are intermixed with microwave vans and their two-story limbs marking the Modesto skyline. Cables run in all colors and all directions across 11th Street, which is now closed by barriers usually used in a street fair.

Makeshift white canopies cover the cameras, microphones, photographers and reporters, keeping the weather away at least a little and the sun dulled. This is a village within a village. Everyone knows everyone else, they ask about respective families, kids and potential vacations.

When someone appears from the courthouse, the cameras are quickly switched on, and a brief moment of calmness is lost, as everyone runs into place to deliver a report.

Such is the day covering one of America's most interesting court battles, and so it will go roughly two hours west of here for a trial set to begin on Feb. 2 that could last well into the summer.