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Ruling expected today on use of courtroom

State court administrators are expected to rule today on whether the Francis M. Letro Courtroom at the University at Buffalo Law School will be designated an official courtroom for civil and criminal cases.

State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia, who had been planning to conduct the first criminal trial there beginning today, told Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III and defense attorneys Thursday that he will let the prosecutor appeal the issue if the designation is made.

During arguments Thursday, objections to the North Campus venue were raised by Sedita and attorneys Phillip Dabney Jr. and Samuel P. Davis, who represent assault defendant Michael A. Pratchett. The judge told prosecutors that if the facility is designated an official courtroom, he will grant prosecutors a stay of Pratchett's trial so they can appeal.

Despite concerns, Buscaglia said the Letro Courtroom is a secure setting for a criminal jury trial. The courtroom previously has been used for civil cases but never a criminal case,

He added that his "paramount" concern is providing a fair trial.

Sedita, however, pointed out that unlike the courtrooms in downtown Buffalo, the UB facility lacks metal detectors to screen for concealed weapons.

Buscaglia, in emphasizing that court officials and UB Law School officials have been working for such closer ties, countered that court officers using electronic wands will ensure there are no concealed weapons in the courtroom.

Free on bail, Pratchett, 30, of Summer Street, is charged with first-degree assault. He is accused of fracturing the skull of Ryan Camman, 29, striking him with a glass during an argument at Stillwater at restaurant on Delaware Avenue at about 1 a.m. June 7, 2008.

Pratchett could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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