Meet some of the New Yorkers waiting overnight to get a seat at the Trump trial

Some hope to make it in the courtroom while others plan to sell their seat.

May 19, 2024, 3:46 PM

As a light rain began to fall on lower Manhattan Saturday night, a group of people across the street from the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse zipped up their tents and clutched their sleeping bags.

They arrived hours earlier, an eclectic mix of locals and tourists hoping to score one of the few public seats inside the courtroom for Donald Trump’s criminal trial.

Unlike other hot tickets in New York – courtside seats to see the Knicks in the playoffs or behind home plate at Yankee Stadium – a seat inside the historic trial of former President Trump is free for the public, as long as they show up early enough.

The line began to form at 6 a.m. Saturday morning with Tina Johnson, a Westchester resident whose past attempts to get in the courtroom failed when she arrived too late. She began an informal list and camped out on a bench on the outskirts of Collect Pond Park. By noon on Saturday, a line slowly formed behind her.

Monday’s testimony includes the final appearance of Michael Cohen on the witness stand as well as the possibility of Trump testifying in his own defense, contributing to Monday’s line forming earlier than any other day of the trial. Trump is on trial for allegedly falsifying business records to hide the reimbursement of a hush money payment that his then-attorney, Michael Cohen, made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in order to boost Trump's electoral prospects in the 2016 presidential election. The former president has denied all wrongdoing.

"It seems as though as the case progresses people get here earlier and earlier," said Richard Partington, who arrived at 9 a.m. on Saturday to hopefully secure a rare courtroom seat.

Over the last four weeks, hundreds of New Yorkers and tourists have flocked to the historic trial to catch a glimpse of Trump and witnesses like Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen. The line for the public began around midnight before Daniels resumed her cross examination two weeks ago, while the line began on Sunday afternoon last week before Cohen took the stand on Monday. Last Sunday – the day before Cohen began his testimony – the line began in the early afternoon.

"It's history in the making," said Michael Powers, who made it into the courtroom last Monday after joining the line at 2:30 p.m. the day before. "This isn't going to happen very often."

With the immense public interest in the case, court officials have established a system of lines to allocate seats in both the main courtroom where the proceedings take place and a nearby overflow room where the press and public can watch a video feed of the proceedings. Approximately 60 members of the press get a seat in the main courtroom each day, while one row of seats in the courtroom is reserved for the public.

In the overflow room, multiple rows of seats are reserved for members of the public – enough room for an entire class of high school students to watch the testimony during a field trip two weeks ago.

"I'm excited to see Cohen being grilled a little more, all his lies being unraveled before the court and before the jurors," said Johnson, who watched the proceedings from the overflow room on Thursday before securing the first spot on the line this week.

Others on the line hope to make money from their time waiting. At least one member of the line on Saturday night was a professional line sitter, paid an hourly rate by a client to hold the spot on line until Monday morning.

PHOTO: About a dozen members of the public lined up outside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse on Saturday to secure a seat for Monday's proceedings.
About a dozen members of the public lined up outside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse on Saturday to secure a seat for Monday's proceedings.
Peter Charalambous/ABC News

To bear the weather and lengthy wait, some brought tents and sleeping bags – others used nearby benches or sheets of cardboard to make impromptu beds with quilts and comforters. The police visited the line at least once overnight – according to Partington they had received a report of a homeless encampment in the park – but quickly left after realizing it was just the line for the Trump trial.

Milliana – a college student from Brooklyn who camped out on Saturday in a tent – said she was unsure if she would enter the courthouse or sell her seat by Monday, having sold her spot on line for more than $300 in the past.

"I am not taking anything less than $800," Milliana told ABC News. "If anyone offers less than $800, I will go inside that courtroom and experience that myself."

John McIntosh – a self-described "parking pirate" who use to make a living by hoarding and selling his streetside parking spot in Battery Park City – has both attended the trial and offered to sell his seat.

"I just want to see it from my own two eyes," McIntosh said.

To pass the time waiting for the trial to resume on Monday, Johnson said she walked around downtown Manhattan, stopped by nearby Starbucks and McDonald's locations to use the bathroom and charge her phone, and chatted about the case with others on the line.

PHOTO: Some members of the public have sold their seats in court for hundreds of dollars.
Some members of the public have sold their seats in court for hundreds of dollars.
Peter Charalambous/ABC News

"I would definitely vote that Trump is absolutely innocent," Johnson said, disagreeing with Partington who is two spots behind her.

"I think the prosecution had a very strong case," Partington said. "I would side against Trump."

The disagreement didn’t seem to bother them much, as they chatted on Saturday evening about the 36 hours left before they could enter the courthouse.

"You can still agree to disagree on things and like each other," Johnson said.

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