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Behind the scenes: how Summit County put on the Paltrow ski crash trial

Retired optometrist Terry Sanderson, whom a Summit County jury found to have hit Gwyneth Paltrow at Deer Valley in 2016, exits the Silver Summit courthouse last Thursday.
Connor Thomas
Retired optometrist Terry Sanderson, whom a Summit County jury found to have hit Gwyneth Paltrow at Deer Valley in 2016, exits the Silver Summit courthouse last Thursday.

An estimated 30 million people tuned into Gwyneth Paltrow’s ski crash trial on social media. That meant the Silver Summit Courthouse saw more visitors than perhaps ever before.

The Summit County Sheriff’s Office can’t remember a civil case that brought this much national attention to a local trial.

A spokesperson said all 11 members of the sheriff’s court security staff were on hand, covering both the eight-day trial and all other court matters.

Kacey Bates, a captain and the public information officer for the sheriff’s office, said there was a bit of a learning curve on day one. The court had to adapt to the sheer volume of people, including actually changing courtrooms.

“This civil trial was actually held in the criminal courtroom instead of the civil courtroom,” Bates said, “because one of the things that we faced that was unusual was limited seating.”

Presiding over the case for Third District Court was Judge Kent Holmberg. To ensure things went as smoothly as possible, he issued a decorum order on March 8, nearly two weeks before the trial began.

That order cordoned off certain seating areas for bailiffs, other personnel and family members of Paltrow and Terry Sanderson, the Salt Lake City man who originally sued in 2019.

Members of the press were given constraints to work within. There was one videographer, CourtTV, and one photographer, Rick Bowmer for the Associated Press.

At times, the court erected a screen between Bowmer and the jury so jurors could not see him. Judge Holmberg prohibited any photography of jurors or potential jurors.

On the video side of things, Judge Holmberg ordered CourtTV to arrange a “kill switch.” That way, he could shut down the television feed at any moment if necessary.

But only the logistical aspects of the case and its media attention were out of the ordinary. Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez said Paltrow didn’t get treated any differently because of her celebrity.

“Miss Paltrow was not really afforded any special considerations for the most part,” Martinez said. “She entered and exited the front door; they had to go through the magnetometer.”

That metal detector was quite busy, especially on the final day of the trial last Thursday, as attorneys for both sides wheeled metal dollies in and out of court to clean up.

The attorneys, as well as reporters, constantly tripped the metal detector by accident.

In the end, it was an undertaking, but the sheriff’s office thought the trial went off safely and securely.

“We got through it. It was good,” Martinez said. “And I'm glad it's over.”

It still remains for Judge Holmberg to decide about legal fees. Now that Paltrow has prevailed, Sanderson could be made to cover her court costs.

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