(AP) - With September's Republican National Convention approaching, Ramsey County court officials are preparing to hold round-the-clock hearings for arrested protesters.
Protest organizers are predicting crowds of at least 50,000 demonstrators when the GOP nominates John McCain for president at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
If large numbers break the law and are sent to jail, courts could face a crush of cases. One judge has already volunteered to take the midnight shift.
"Within 36 hours, everyone has a right to a court date," Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin said. "So, if needed, we will have calendars 24 hours a day."
To free up space for convention-related proceedings, officials will suspend pretrial hearings during the Sept. 1-4 event and move the county's housing court from the main courthouse in St. Paul to another facility in Maplewood.
It's unclear how much it would cost the already strapped courts to process large numbers of arrested protesters. Judges don't make overtime, but Gearin said other court staff would have to be paid for working odd hours.
There's no court budget for extra work arising from the convention, and a $50 million federal grant to St. Paul for security costs doesn't cover the courts.
The State Judicial Council is studying the cost issue.
"People from around the world are going to be watching how the system in St. Paul deals with dissent issues, if there are dissent issues," Gearin said.
She added: "We're hoping that we end up being bored. But we also believe we have to be prepared."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)