At 1:01 p.m. Jan. 3 a minute past the appointed time a white Volvo sedan turns off Hull Street onto 10th Street in Richmond's South Side. The driver brakes and stops the car in the middle of the road. The door to the back seat opens, and out steps Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell. She is swathed in red: She has wrapped a red shawl over her shoulders and around her red dress. She pulls the billowing red material closer to her body against a biting cold wind. Her attorneys, Michael Morchower and William K. Lewis, leather satchels in tow, get out of the Volvo and join Trammell. As the car pulls away, the trio walks briskly to the side door of the Manchester Courthouse. The courtroom inside is already full. At any single moment across the city, there is a Place To Be or at least the illusion of one. Today there is a sense that this is That Place. About 80 people are here to watch the scandalicious proceedings some not by choice. But the big names make the Manchester Courthouse arguably the epicenter of power in Richmond today. It has been three months since this all began. In October, a Richmond grand jury indicted Trammell on a charge of giving an order to a city employee. Trammell is accused of telling a police officer not to divulge that she had been slapped by another police officer. And in November, according to a second charge, she had allegedly told a public-works crew to stop laying a gas pipe. If the charges are true, Trammell has violated the Richmond City Charter, a misdemeanor, and risks losing her seat on City Council. Today's pretrial hearing is about to begin. Trammell and her lawyers make their way into the cream-colored courtroom, where the temperature is comfortable and the winter sun shines through big windows. Trammell settles into a chair behind the table assigned to defendants, up front and to the left. Her attorneys sit, too. Across the aisle, assistant commonwealth's attorneys Carlos Hopkins and Diane Abato sit at the prosecution's table. Morchower, a media-friendly lawyer with a shy hairline and an aggressive voice, plans to argue that Hopkins and Abato along with the office of the commonwealth's attorney should recuse themselves from trying the case. Trammell, her mouth a straight line, darts her eyes around the courtroom. There are her supporters, most of them outspoken, down-home women from the 8th District, dressed comfortably in sweats and sweaters. Weeks earlier, some had picketed for Trammell at a City Council meeting. As Morchower's Amen Chorus, they are convinced that the commonwealth's attorney is out to get their councilwoman. They are loyal to Trammell, one says later, "because she's done so much for us." There are the police officers not just the ones involved in the alleged slapping incident, but a handful of others dressed in their blues, who sit together in a row. There are the radio, television and newspaper reporters, for whom Morchower endeavors to create spiffy soundbites. There are many of Trammell's fellow City Council members: Vice-Mayor Rudolph C. McCollum Jr.; the Rev. Gwen C. Hedgepeth, who sits beside fellow councilman W.R. "Bill" Johnson, who fingers a recent issue of Men's Fitness magazine he's brought along. It is standing-room only, and quiet. About 80 onlookers fill nearly every seat three rows of eight on the right side, six rows of six on the left. The lawyers begin their arguments, and Mayor Timothy M. Kaine leaves a conversation in the hallway, steps into the courtroom and leans against the wall. During the next 20 minutes, a few minor matters are resolved including an argument from state Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, who represents some of the council members. They shouldn't have to testify, Marsh says. Morchower, who had subpoenaed them here to begin with, folds. He won't ask, as he had planned, whether they had ever violated the City Charter. They don't have to testify, but Morchower asks them to stay anyway. At 1:26 p.m., City Manager Calvin Jamison slips into the courtroom, with his overcoat folded across his arms. So does Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin, who removes his black coat. Others follow, and soon a small group is standing in the aisles. General District Court Judge Ralph B. Robertson notices. "Ladies and gentlemen," Robertson says, "I apologize for the crowded conditions." He invites onlookers to sit in the jury box, or in the previously reserved front row, over which a burgundy ribbon had been laid. El-Amin heads for the jury box. City Manager Jamison takes a seat in the front row beside his lawyer, Richmond attorney Roger Gregory, Richmond's headline of the week since President Clinton appointed him to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (On this day, seeking to make the appointment permanent, Clinton will nominate Gregory for the Senate Judiciary Committee to confirm.) Some back-and-forth snipping and objecting and interrupting unfold. El-Amin testifies, then City Attorney John Rupp, whom an aide has called during a recess to summon him in from City Hall. Mayor Kaine takes the stand, too. Morchower argues that an outside prosecutor should be brought in and the commonwealth's attorney's office should step aside. There is the appearance of a conflict of interest, Morchower says, because it had recently come to light that Commonwealth's Attorney David M. Hicks had paid himself bonuses. Councilwoman Trammell may be asked to vote whether those bonuses are legitimate unless, Morchower says, "she's convicted, [then] she doesn't have a vote." "Red herrings and smokescreens," Hopkins counters. "Truth and justice," Morchower says. Judge Robertson fills his cheeks with air, letting it out in a slow exhale. And in the end, at 3:40 p.m., noting that there is no evidence Hicks has done anything wrong, Robertson decides that Trammell does, indeed, need a new prosecutor. There is the potential for an appearance of conflict of interest. A new court date is set. Victory for the Reva supporters! Morchower and fellow lawyer Lewis tap each other on the leg. In the audience, Vice-Mayor McCollum clenches his left fist, taps it on his knee and whispers, "Thank you." Trammell beams. When the court adjourns her supporters hug her. L. Shirley Harvey, a former City Councilwoman with a nose for scandal, rushes up to Morchower. "We've gotta talk," she tells him. "Oh, there are so many things you don't know." Outside, once the television news cameras are rolling, Morchower revels in his victory with Trammell and Lewis at his side. Reporters chuckle at his jokes. Morchower predicts the trial will last another two to three months. He wraps things up, and walks with Trammell and Lewis to the curb. The white Volvo pulls up and takes them all away. Until next
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