VAN NUYS — Alec Baldwin was in Van Nuys Municipal Court on Wednesday, ready to begin his battery trial for allegedly socking a photographer in the face.
The media horde was there, looking for live shots of the sleekly groomed Baldwin--star of "The Hunt for Red October" and "The Marrying Man" and husband of movie star Kim Basinger--battling for his good name and freedom.
Baldwin faces up to six months in jail if convicted on the misdemeanor charge.
The only thing missing was the jury.
Jury selection was delayed until almost the end of the day because all available prospective jurors were sent to a jury pool for a felony trial in Superior Court, leaving a tight-lipped Baldwin and antsy press corps to cool their heels in an empty courtroom.
"We're cooked today," UPI reporter Dennis Love grumbled.
"What a waste," sighed a television reporter a few hours later. "We could have had the whole trial by now."
Baldwin faces one misdemeanor battery charge for allegedly breaking 51-year-old Alan Zanger's nose in October in Woodland Hills after Zanger videotaped Baldwin arriving home from the hospital with Basinger and their newborn daughter.
Thus began a cycle familiar to celebrity-watchers: Zanger, a well-known member of the Hollywood paparazzi, placed Baldwin under citizen's arrest, and days later filed a lawsuit against him. Baldwin sued Zanger, and the city attorney filed misdemeanor charges against Baldwin.
Zanger "was hurt pretty substantially," said his lawyer, Neil S. Steiner. "I think it's horrific, the message he [Baldwin] sends out to the American public today--particularly the youth, that it's all right to use fists."
Baldwin's attorney, Charles English, says his client is innocent and Zanger is guilty of crossing the line of good taste. "These kinds of stalkers and aggressive people need to understand that they can't do this," English said.
Most celebrities charged with misdemeanors plead no contest to avoid high-profile trials and a conviction which could be used against them in a civil suit, said English, who has represented several famous clients.
But Baldwin wants to prove his innocence in open court, English said. "He has taken a lot of kidding from Jay Leno, but he hasn't really had a chance to say what happened."
However, television cameras are barred from the courtroom at English's request. Baldwin will testify in his defense, and the trial is expected to run about a week.
Dressed in a dark sports jacket and gray slacks and wearing black-rimmed glasses, Baldwin refused to comment and once dashed across Delano Street to escape the pursuing press. In the courtroom, Baldwin hid his face from photographers and spent the hours chatting with his attorney.
Minutes before court adjourned for the day, a group of prospective jurors surfaced and shuffled into the empty seats in Division 117.
Municipal Judge Michael E. Knight admonished the prospective jurors to ignore media reports and not to discuss the case with anyone. Jury selection will begin in earnest today at 10 a.m.
Heading for the parking garage, Baldwin ignored a pack of waiting reporters.
"I bet his car's not in our little parking area," quipped one passing juror.