When the doors of Department 8 opened in Stanislaus Superior Court on Tuesday afternoon, the dozens of people standing in the crowded corridor began bunching together to form a disorderly line.
One by one, family and friends of the accused, attorneys, colleagues, members of the media and people with no connection to the case made their way into the courtroom gallery until every seat was taken. The door was then locked, leaving many to stand in the muggy hallway.
“This man has a right to a public hearing,” defense attorney Bob Chase said to a group of reporters. “He has a right to be arraigned in public; this is being denied.”
Chase was talking about Frank Carson, the prominent defense attorney who was arrested Friday along with seven others in the 2012 slaying of a Turlock man. An additional defendant was listed as an arrestee in the affidavit but has has been in custody since last year in the case.
While Carson’s wife, stepdaughter, three California Highway Patrol officers and two liquor store owners are among his co-defendants, Carson supporters made up a large portion of those in attendance.
A few of them, along with journalists who didn’t make it inside or were denied access with their cameras, gathered at the doors of the courtroom and questioned the bailiff who stood as a barrier inside.
The bailiff said he was under orders by his lieutenant to prevent anyone else from entering because it would pose a fire hazard.
“The hazard is locking people into a courtroom,” said attorney Stephen Schmid, who represents Carson in a pending civil case against the county.
The doors were eventually unlocked but the deputy continued to block access and would not open the doors so those in the hallway could watch the hearing.
Court executive officer Rebecca Fleming said it is the court’s policy to lock the doors until the judge takes a seat at the bench.
“Doors may not be propped open due to security risks and because there are limitations from media requests,” she said in an email.
Fleming did not respond to an email requesting she elaborate on the security risks, but The Modesto Bee was among other news outlets told it could not bring cameras into the courtroom.
Cameras rolled in the hallway, however, as the attorneys challenged the bailiff and spoke about the case.
Schmid pointed out that the arraignment could have been held in the roomier bankruptcy courtroom that is being leased to accommodate a different multiple-defendant murder case.
“They certainly anticipated a crowd, they could have put it in a bigger courtroom they could put a video feed up. … This is what is fundamentally wrong here. This is a public hearing; the doors should at least be open,” he said.
The out-of-county judge overseeing the proceedings will primarily determine how future court proceedings are handled, Fleming said.